February 21, 2014 Updated: February 21, 2014 at 3:51 pm
SOCHI, Russia — We wanted the gold too much.
Kelli Stack said those words with tears in her eyes. On Thursday night on the edge of the Black Sea, the United States women's hockey team was a minute away from an historic victory over Canada.
They couldn't hold on. Stack said the American skaters were so caught up in the big picture they lost sight of the crucial small details. They wanted to rule the world so badly that they lost control of the small, rather important realm right in front of their goal.
This is a common problem. As the stakes rise in sports, so do the mistakes. Even the greats, the ones who hardly ever make mistakes, suddenly turn clumsy.
Terry Bradshaw ranks among the best big-game performers in sports history. He took a basic approach to playing in Super Bowls, and his simplicity elevated him.
He treated the Super Bowl as just another game. He told himself, as he trotted on the field with the entire football world watching, this was no different than games he once played as a boy in his backyard in Louisiana. Don't get too caught up in the moment, he commanded himself, and make sure to have fun.
Bradshaw's strategy worked. He won four Super Bowls as Steelers quarterback. In a way, he lied to himself. In another way, he told the complete truth. Someone was going to lose. Someone was going to win. Just like those backyard games.
We expect so much of our elite athletes. American hockey fans expected their women's team to remain completely composed and focused and sharp. The Americans were only trying to topple an Olympic hockey dynasty that had won 19 straight games and three consecutive golds.
The Americans failed largely because they realized just what was at stake. They looked around the corner a little too soon, began considering how fantastic it would be to win and how horrific it would be to lose. They lost sight of the moment right in front of them, and fumbled the gold.
In Canada, the final minute of regulation and overtime will be celebrated for decades. The Great White North will rejoice over an inspired rally while Americans mourn a collapse.
My own view is forgiving of the Americans. In this version, the superior team, Canada, slumbered for almost the entire game before awakening just in time. Canada took full advantage of one of hockey's quirks, which allows for a desperate team to yank its goaltender in a dramatic, often effective gamble.
A choke? I don't like the word. I don't use the word. It's too filled with judgment. It dismisses all the complexities and tries to define a game with one word.
On ice not far from the Olympic hockey rink, American figure skater Jeremy Abbott faced his own struggles with the immense pressure of the Olympics. Abbott talks frequently about "the demons" he encounters while skating. He even talks about shaking their hands.
In the early seconds of his short program, Abbott again encountered one of those demons. He crashed to the ice, and in an instant his medal quest ended.
His coach, Yuka Sato, later offered forgiveness along with an explanation.
"He really went after it, but it might have been too much," she said. "It's a fine line. You have to be relaxed, but you have to be aggressive."
It's so difficult to walk that fine line. Much of the world is watching and what you've chased for years is right in front of you. A medal dangles..
But as you reach, you must remain calm.
Sounds so easy, even though it's so difficult.