SOCHI, Russia (AP) — When it was all over, when the mighty Russian men's hockey team with the big stars and the massive expectations failed to earn a medal for the third straight Winter Olympics, thousands of their demanding fans streamed out of the shiny new arena and squinted as their eyes caught the setting sun.
Many had no words to express the disappointment that came with Russia's 3-1 loss to Finland on Wednesday. This was supposed be the team to end a 22-year gold medal drought and provide a hopeful nation with the defining moment of an Olympics on home turf.
Instead, they were a massive flop, and the fans in attendance had difficulty reconciling the failure.
"For seven years we have been waiting and preparing for the Olympics and most of all we waited for the ice hockey and today it was a catastrophe and shame for Russia," said Sergey Kazakov, a 58-year-old retiree from Moscow.
Alex Ovechkin. Pavel Datsyuk. Ilya Kovalchuk. Evgeni Malkin. The stars all seemed to be aligning this time around in Russia, where hockey is a national treasure and the fans yearn for the dominant days of the old Soviet Red Army teams. And they were aligning at home, in this resort town on the Black Sea, in an arena built to show off the nation's hockey prowess.
With all this in mind, the fans were certain that the glory days were returning. They packed the Bolshoy Ice Dome, painted their faces in the national colors and blew horns as they walked the steps into the arena to cheer on their heroes. The team got off to a roaring start with a 5-2 win over newcomer Slovenia, but they followed that with a shootout loss to the Americans and a shootout win over Slovakia before they were bounced by the Finns.
"They put up together many hockey stars but with no result," said Andrei Bondar, a 42-year-old road construction manager from Krasnodar. "Finland was well-organized. They scored two goals and never looked back after adding one more."
Outside the Bolshoy, fans shook their heads and threw up their arms in frustration. To put the disappointment in perspective, think of the feelings in Rio de Janeiro if Brazil loses in the World Cup this year, look back on the dejection in Tuscaloosa when Alabama lost to Auburn in the Iron Bowl or turn on talk radio in New York in the fall if the Yankees fail to make the World Series.