Georgia well-represented in Sochi games

Photo by Scott Cunningham

Atlanta may have once hosted the Summer Olympics (1996), but games of the winter variety are a much different story around these parts. Heck, just a few inches of unrecognizable white stuff virtually shut down the city last month and an ice storm did the same last week. Simply put, we don’t do winter around here. Somewhat surprisingly, however, our state does have its fair share of ties to the current Sochi Olympics.


Two athletes in Sochi hail from Georgia and both have already made plenty of headlines. In fact, short-track speedskater Kyle Carr has found himself in the news without even competing. First, Carr’s mother—Lisa Cervantes—thought she would be unable to make the trek from her home in Peachtree City all the way to Russia. Thanks to a healthy number of generous donations, Cervantes made it to Sochi after four flights spanning a total of 30 hours. At long last she would witness her sonfulfill his Olympic dream.

Or would she? Team USA’s 5,000-meter team consists of five skaters, but only four compete in an event. Carr was left off the semifinal roster, as the team instead chose to rest him prior to a final for which it was favored to qualify. With four laps to go in last Thursday’s race, American Eddy Alvarez crashed and, just like that, the team’s hopes seemed to evaporate. Afterward, though, video review confirmed that Alvarez had been impeded by a South Korean while he was in qualifying position. The ruling automatically sent the United States through to what will be a crowded final on Friday, but one not so crowded as to prevent Cervantes from doing what she set out to do: watching her son in the Olympic Games.

At the Sanki Sliding Center, bobsled driver Elana Meyers of Douglasville was on course for a gold medal through the first half of two-women competition (results were not available at press time). Meyers, who played basketball and softball at Lithia Springs, had a .23-second leadalong with teammate Lauryn Williams after two heats over a Canadian duo that is ranked No. 1 in the world. At the 2010 Vancouver Games, Mey- ers captured bronze in this event while working the brakes for her team.

“I knew going into Vancouver, (that) my best shot was as a brakeman,” Meyers told “I wasn’t going to make it as a driver. So as soon as that was over, two weeks later, I was in the trenches trying to learn how to drive.”

The student has now become the teacher, schooling all other participants on the sport’s grandest stage.


The NHL is no more in Atlanta, but a hand- ful of Olympic hockey participants once roamed the ice of Philips Arena as Thrashers. None is more famous or better at his craft than Russian star Ilya Kovalchuk. We’ll put it nicely and say the highly-touted home team underachieved in Sochi (Russian president Vladimir Putin would likely put it much differently). In group play, the Russians won only a single game in regulation (over Slovenia), lost to the United States in a shootout and survived Slovakia—also in a shootout. After coasting past Norway in round one of knockout stages, they were unceremoni- ously bounced from the tournament with a 3-1 loss to Finland on Wednesday.

All of it, however, was no fault of Kovalchuk. He lit the lamp once against Slovenia, converted two of his shootout attempts against Team USA (including one in a must-make situ- ation), scored the shootout clincher against Slovakia, added another goal against Norway and notched his team’s lone score against Finland. Can a former Thrasher get some help, please?

One guy getting plenty of help is Johnny Oduya, who played in Atlanta for two seasons (2009-2011) and assisted on Chicago’s Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 6 at Boston last summer. As of Wednesday, Oduya’s Sweden had cruised through group play with a perfect record and best goal differential—good for the No. 1 seed in the knockout rounds, in which it opened with a 5-0 destruction of Slovenia.

Other Olympians with Atlanta Thrashers backgrounds are Kari Lehtonen (goalie, Fin- land), Ondrej Pavelec (goalie, Czech Republic), Blake Wheeler (forward, USA), Arturs Kulda (defenseman, Latvia) and Ilya Nikulin (defen- seman, Russia). Wheeler and the impressive Americans rolled through round-robin competition undefeated, highlighted by their thriller against Russia. Kulda and the upstart Latvians went winless in group play but reached the Olympic quarterfinals for the first time in his- tory by avenging a loss to Switzerland with a 3-1 victory on Tuesday.


Of course, it’s not entirely about the ath- letes. The director and general manager of the United States’ women’s hockey team has previous work experience in Atlanta. Reagan Carey started as a marketing and special projects assistant for the Thrashers in 2002 before taking over as marketing coordinator in 2003. She later served as the director of fan develop- ment and youth marketing for Atlanta Spirit, LLC, which is the Hawks’ parent company.

Cary is at the helm of what is inarguably one of the two best women’s hockey teams in the world. Not counting their head-to-head showdown last Wednesday (Canada won 3-2), the United States outscored opponents 18-2 in three games and Canada held a combined 11-1 advantage over its trio of adversaries. The Canada-USA rematch came on Thursday with much higher stakes—the gold medal, to be exact—but results were not available at press time.

Mike Plant, the Braves’ Executive Vice President of Business Operations, is serving as interim President of the U.S. Speedskating Board of Directors. Speedskating so far this fortnight has been every bit as bad for the United States as it has been good for the Nether- lands. As of Wednesday, the Netherlands had earned a whopping 21 of its 22 total medals in speedskating. Zero of Team USA’s 21 medals had come in either short-track or long-track, although it has several short-track contenders competing later this week.

How will the games ultimately turn out? We will find out this weekend. But we now know at least one thing: Georgia had a surpris- ingly significant role in Sochi.

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