SOCHI, Russia — Canadian Olympians Mellisa Hollingsworth and Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg were hanging out in the athletes village Monday when they heard the Stanley Cup would be at Canada Olympic House.
Hollingsworth, a skeleton racer, and Wotherspoon-Gregg, a long-track speedskater, figured why not go and take a picture with one of the most famous trophies in sports. Like many of the athletes who went to see the Cup, they’ll never compete for it, yet it still holds a special meaning to them.
“It is a symbolism of sport and greatness for Canada, really,” Hollingsworth said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or what career path you’re down. This is something that symbolizes Canada and our culture.”
On Monday, while athletes from various sports were enjoying their hour with the Cup, its appearance at Canada Olympic House became a lightning rod for criticism.
“Why is the Stanley Cup at Canada House in Sochi?” former Canadian Olympic skier Brian Stemmle wrote on Twitter. “Other athletes don’t bring their trophies. Hate when hockey tries to overshadow other sports.”
The athletes at Canada Olympic House didn’t seem to see it that way as figure skater Patrick Chan, speedskater Brittany Schussler, skeleton racer Eric Neilson and some of the Canadian curlers were among those to have their picture taken with the Cup.
But Stemmle’s comments, which led to more criticism on social media, highlighted the debate over whether NHL players should be at the Olympics, and whether their presence in Sochi and at other Games takes away from athletes in other sports.
Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman, who also serves as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, has said on numerous occasions that he believes in NHL participation at the Olympics. When asked about a recent poll that suggested Canadians believed the country’s success or failure at the Olympics depended on the men’s hockey team, he said that was “unfair to the rest of the Canadian Olympic team.”
“I want people to understand our players are respectful of all the other athletes here and are proud to be a part of the Canadian Olympic team,” Yzerman said last week. “For every Canadian athlete, they’ve been training their entire life for this, and I think it’s unfair to them that we detract from any of their accomplishments regardless of what happens with our hockey team.”
Philip Pritchard, the Cup’s handler, said the NHL is “thrilled to be part of the Olympics.
“And to share the Stanley Cup with not only the athletes but the fans, the media, the volunteers, everything — it’s a win-win for all sports athletes and sports fans around the world.”
That seemed to be the reaction inside as flashbulbs went off around the Cup. Current Olympians were urged to take a team photo with it, and they did so smiling, laughing and soaking up the moment.