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Russia taps former greats for honor

AP

One of the greatest goaltenders of all time and an innovative figure skater who won three straight Olympic pairs titles lit the cauldron together Friday night at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Games.

Vladislav Tretiak and Irina Rodnina were given the honor of sparking the cauldron that will burn throughout the Winter Olympics.

Tretiak was a star on the great Soviet Union hockey teams of the 1970s and ’80s, and is usually called the best goalie ever by those who saw him play.

He was the first Russian-born player to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame and won Olympic gold with Soviet teams in 1972, 1976 and 1984.

But he only got silver after his team was upset by the United States in the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980. In the first period of that game, Tretiak allowed two goals, and legendary Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov unexpectedly replaced him with Vladimir Mishkin in an apparent move to shake up his complacent team.

“It was difficult for me to sit on the bench with the score 2-2,” Tretiak said at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, the 30th anniversary of the upset. “If I played the second and third period, the game might have turned a different way.”

Rodnina won her three gold medals with two different partners at the 1972, 1976 and 1980 Olympics. She also won 10 world pairs titles in a row.

She was known for pioneering moves that made her the dominant female pairs skater of her era. After winning the 1972 Olympic title with Alexei Ulanov, she won the following two golds with Alexander Zaitsev.

Today she is a member of parliament as a member of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and an outspoken critic of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

A tweet of Rodnina’s from last year — a photo of President Barack Obama doctored to include a banana — drew new attention online Friday. She didn’t explain the tweet at the time and later took down the photo, but later defended it with another tweet, saying “Freedom of speech is freedom!”