SOCHI, Russia _The woozy hockey hangover the United States women’s and men’s hockey teams suffered at the 2014 Winter Olympics produced at least one bit of good news: U.S. women’s player Julie Chu will carry the American flag at the Winter Games’ closing ceremony Sunday.
The Sochi Games are Chu’s fourth, and probably last, Olympics. If so, she leaves with three silver medals from 2002, 2010 and 2014 and a bronze medal from 2006. She’s tied as the second-most decorated U.S. female athlete in Olympic Winter Games history.
“When I found out I was the flag bearer for the closing ceremony I was trying to process what a humbling honor it was,” Chu said. “With the way that we select the flag bearer, being able to be elected by my peers is unreal, especially with the success that so many of our athletes have had.”
Chu, 31, is the second hockey player to carry the U.S. flag. Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato did it in 1998, the first year women’s hockey was played at the Winter Games. She’s the first person of color to be the U.S. flag bearer at a Winter Games closing ceremony.
“Today, Julie joins a distinguished group of athletes who have been selected to serve as flag bearer for Team USA,” United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said. “She has been a tremendous ambassador for her sport and our athletes, and will continue to be a world-class representative of our nation at the closing ceremony and beyond.”
Unfortunately, the women’s and men’s hockey team didn’t achieve the success that many had anticipated in Sochi.
The U.S. women were within a minute of capturing the Gold Medal and defeating archrival Canada. But the U.S. squandered a 2-0 lead and gave up the tying goal with less than a minute to play in the third period. They lost the game 3-2 in overtime.
The U.S. men, a collection of National Hockey League stars, played themselves out of any kind of medal with a dismal 5-0 loss to an inspired Finland team. After the U.S.’s dramatic 3-2 shootout victory over Russia and feasting on lesser teams like Slovakia, the men’s team went into a scoring drought, losing 2-1 to Canada before ageless Anaheim Ducks forward Teemu Selanne and his Finnish teammates kept the American squad off the medal podium altogether.
Chu said the women’s loss to Canada, and the way they lost, was “an emotional rollercoaster for us.”
“We believed we could win it,” she added. “I’m proud of how we came out flying, we didn’t lose our belief. When the final puck was in, we felt that we’re down.”
But Chu said she won’t let the defeat define her career or her Olympic experience. She finished her collegiate in 20087 as Harvard University’s all-time assist leader with 196 and the NCAA leader with 284 points in 129 games.
“It’s been a dream,” she said. “When I was young, it was 1995 when it was announced that women’s hockey would be in the 1998 Olympic Games. I was a freshman in high school when our U.S. women’s team won in 1998 and I was hooked for life.”
Chu said her time in Sochi “has been absolutely incredible.”
“The competition is obviously our focus and the venues have been spectacular,” she said. “One of the best things is that every time we enter a venue or go in and out of the (Olympic) village, we pass these smiling, excited volunteers. They truly made this a spectacular experience.”