Reuters - Fri, 26 Feb 13:09:00 2010
The future of women's ice hockey at the Winter Olympics could be in doubt if other nations do not start challenging the domination of Canada and the United States, IOC president Jacques Rogge said.
For evidence of the lopsided competition, one needs look no further than the results. Canada had 46 goals and allowed two going into the gold medal game on Thursday against a US team that scored 40 goals and conceded two.
It also marked the third time in the four Olympics women ice hockey players have competed in that the North American rivals have met in the gold medal game. Sweden and Finland are the only other countries to win a medal in women's Olympic ice hockey.
"There is a discrepancy there, everyone agrees with that," Rogge said. "This is maybe the investment period in women's ice hockey. I would personally give them more time to grow but there must be a period of improvement. We cannot continue without improvement."
Ice hockey officials believe the skills gap is related to levels of participation, and successful Canadian and US squads inspire more women to play, building the talent pools.
"The Canadian and U.S. girls are living on another planet," said International Ice Hockey Federation head Rene Fasel, who estimates there are 80,000 girls playing ice hockey in Canada compared to 267 in Slovakia.
The lack of broad participation has repeatedly been cited by the IOC as a reason they have not allowed women's ski jumping as sport in the Winter Olympics.
Sweden's women's ice hockey coach Peter Elander dismissed suggestions that non-North American teams do not prepare as well, saying they just do not have the same resources.
"We've worked our asses off," he said, when asked about the sport's future after his team finished fourth with a loss to Finland in the bronze medal game.
Elander added that for a close tournament all teams need to prepare in the same way, suggesting less-developed programs get aid to match the resources of North American teams.
Some have suggested Canada and the United States help their rivals by setting up a training system similar to the men's that would allow more European players to develop their skills in North America.
"We're at the point where the US and Canada have to take leadership roles," said Daniele Sauvageau, who coached the Canadian women's team to a gold medal in 2002.
Finland's goalie Noora Raty said the team's bronze at the Vancouver Olympics will help in her homeland.
"I think the gap is going to be a lot closer in four years. Now we will get more practice and we can practice more."
Follow the Winter Olympics 24/7 on British Eurosport (Sky 410 / Virgin 521) and Eurosport HD (Sky 412). British Eurosport channels are streamed online via the Eurosport Player.