GANGNEUNG, South Korea – There are three Olympic sports that use a shootout following overtime, or extra time – ice hockey in the Winter Games and soccer and field hockey in the summer version. In three of the last five finals in those disciplines, the ...
Martin Rogers | USA TODAY Sports
GANGNEUNG, South Korea – There are three Olympic sports that use a shootout following overtime, or extra time – ice hockey in the Winter Games and soccer and field hockey in the summer version.
In three of the last five finals in those disciplines, the shootout has come into play, most recently and notably of course, when the United States women’s hockey stars ousted Canada on Thursday in a nail-biting thriller.
The Americans were brilliant and, to be fair, so were their vanquished opponents. It was extraordinary drama and an incredible advertisement for the women’s game. The excitement was there, not just at the end but throughout.
All that said, the method used for determining a champion is deeply flawed, painfully unfair and needs to be changed.
This is the Olympics. For most of the athletes, certainly in the winter version, the sacrifices made to pursue a dream of athletic achievement are significant. The Pyeongchang Olympics boasts a handful of millionaires, numerous competitors who are comfortably off and plenty more who make less for being among the best in the world than they would if they worked in an office, or on a building site, or at a fast food restaurant or whatever.
They deserve better than a crapshoot to determine the outcome. For that’s what a shootout is, however we like to spin it. Team USA is a worthy, honorable and proud winner that is worth every ounce of adulation it will receive, and more. But the final was 80 minutes of nail-biting drama followed by what was essentially a coin flip.
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A shootout is incredibly thrilling and nerve-wracking, and few who witnessed Thursday’s gold-medal game will ever forget it. Yet it is an unnecessarily contrived way to decide the result of a game with monumental importance to these players.
I have no issue with shootouts in group games. Leave them in for quarterfinals and semifinals and the bronze medal playoff, too. Not for the final, though. Let’s not boil the entire competition down to something so random when a gold medal, that little token that everyone strives for, is at stake.
Do we want any game to be able to go on indefinitely? After all, really the only way to avoid a shootout is to play sudden-death OT until someone scores. Well, that’s why it would just be for the final. Would an extra half-hour of Sweden’s men’s quarterfinal against Germany have been what we wanted? Perhaps not, but would anyone have complained at 10 more minutes of the magic we saw during the women’s gold-medal game? Or an extra hour? It was riveting stuff.
In soccer, the men’s final at the Rio Olympics in 2016 gave victory to the host nation against Germany, when Neymar stepped up and struck home the decisive penalty kick. At the same Games, Great Britain’s Maddie Hinch made herself a national hero by parrying several shots to give her team victory over the Netherlands.
It is an exhilarating way to win and a truly sickening way to lose.
Hockey’s solution would be to just keep playing. If it is for gold, neither team has another game, so lingering exhaustion would not be an issue, and it would be the fairest method of separating them.
Field hockey could do the same. Is the crowd going to care that it got extra action for the money?
Soccer is a little more problematic, due to its relatively low-scoring nature. Also, in that sport, there are countless events that currently use the shootout format, including the World Cup – which has decided its champion that way twice.
For the two hockey disciplines though, it is time for change. Doing away with the shootout is better and fairer. And, given that the motto of the Games is “faster, higher, stronger” -- not luckier – it is just more Olympian.
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