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‘My emotions got the better of me’: Canada’s Larocque apologizes after refusing to wear silver medal

Jocelyne Larocque refuses to wear her silver medal after losing to the U.S. in the women’s gold medal hockey game.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Facing heat from international hockey officials, Hockey Canada issued a statement on Friday in which Jocelyne Larocque apologized for refusing to wear her silver medal after the Canadian women's hockey team's crushing shootout loss to the United States.

The Canadian defenceman, upset and bitter after the 3-2 defeat, apologized to the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation, which oversee the tournament.

"My emotions got the better of me," Larocque was quoted as saying. She also apologized to her teammates and fans.

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The statement comes a day after Larocque was openly scolded by the IIHF after she stepped off the ice for not wearing the medal, and then was trolled on social media in Canada and elsewhere for being "unsportsmanlike" and a "sore loser."

Following the game, a heartbroken Larocque said she was still processing the loss and couldn't bring herself to wear the medal.

Interestingly, though, while Larocque has faced some backlash in Canada for her actions during the post-game ceremony, she has received support from south of the border.

"I understand it," U.S. coach Robb Stauber, a former NHL goaltender, said after the game, indicating he knew how devastated Larocque felt as an athlete in that moment. "It's a very heated rivalry."

The Chicago Tribune's Kevin Williams then wrote an elegant defence of Larocque's decision, pointing out the absurdity of fans who expect athletes to play along after losing.

"Sportsmanship? Forget it. Does the antelope congratulate the lion?" Williams wrote.

"We forget what sport at that rarefied, Olympic level is: Athletes who are at the peak of their fitness train for their whole lives. They sweat, strain, lift, deal with injury and pain, go through agony so that when the moment comes, they will be physically and mentally strong enough to get the job done, to win the war. It isn't pretty, it isn't friendly. It's nasty, and it is supposed to be."

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Williams continued: "When at the end of all that, someone gives you the glittering symbol of your failure, what are you supposed to do?"

The Canadians criticizing Larocque on social media just wanted her to shut up, wear the silver medal, and smile.

It was the same message the IIHF delivered to Larocque when she got off the ice. In the bowels of the arena, an IIHF official pulled her aside and told her about about the "legal" reasons why she can't refuse to wear the medal, and that she needed to put it back on. The Olympics has rules and she had better start toeing the line. As she listened, Larocque nodded and stared at the floor, as tears welled in her eyes.

The loss snaps Canada's gold-medal streak at four and left many of its players despondent. The rivalry between Canada and the U.S. in women's hockey has reached epic status over the past 20 years. Arguably, there is no rivalry in all of hockey right now that comes close to the same level of vitriol and sourness.

Certainly nothing in the NHL can compete, despite what the league's marketing department does in an effort to hype certain matchups. Leafs-Canadians? Nope. Crosby-Ovechkin? Never. The dislike between the two women's teams is palpable every time they take the ice, each of them knowing that the one thing standing in the way of their achievements is the other.

While Larocque was the only Canadian player to take off her silver medal during the ceremony, she is far from the only athlete to respond that way.

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When Sweden lost to Canada at the most recent World Junior Hockey Championships, Swedish captain and New York Rangers prospect Lias Andersson was so angry he took his unwanted silver medal and hurled it into the crowd.

"There was one guy in the stands who wanted it more than me, so I decided to give it to him," he said, explaining that he doesn't play hockey for medals – "not silver ones anyway."

While onlookers gasped and shrieked from the sidelines at the apparent disrespect he was showing the game – whatever that means – they forgot one thing: the medal was his, Andersson could do whatever he wanted with it, including take it off and toss it away if he chose. Though he didn't ask for it back, the medal was later retrieved by team officials.

There are many stories of athletes refusing medals at the Olympics. Some are out of respect for their competitors: After iconic track athlete Jim Thorpe was stripped of his decathlon and pentathlon gold medals from the 1912 Stockholm Summer Games for failing to disclose that he had played professional baseball a few years earlier – which compromised his amateur status – the silver medalists from those two events refused to accept the gold. It wasn't until 1982 that the IOC finally reversed its decision and returned Thorpe's gold medals posthumously.

Other medal refusals have been done to protest suspect officiating. In 2008, Swedish Greco-Roman wrestler Ara Abrahamian, angered about perceived judging errors he believed cost him a shot at the gold, took off his bronze medal and dropped it on the mat, then walked away. The IOC later stripped him of it.

Larocque hasn't gotten rid of her medal – she was just too angry and distraught in the moments after the game to put it on.

"Just hard," she said after the game. "We were going for gold."

She acknowledged the medal might mean more to her in the future. "Once we reflect," she said. "But now, not at the moment."

IIHF regulations state that "medals have to be worn by the players around the neck in respectful manner for the duration of the closing ceremony and the following post-game mixed zone [where athletes address reporters] and media conference procedures."

Failure to follow those rules "will be reported to the IIHF disciplinary board and could result in additional disciplinary sanctions."

A spokeswoman for Hockey Canada said Larocque spoke to her teammates before the formal apology was issued. In the statement, Larocque said she meant no disrespect.

"In the moment, I was disappointed with the outcome of the game," she said. "I'm proud of our team, and proud to be counted among the Canadian athletes who have won medals at these Games."

"Being on the podium at the world's biggest sporting event is a great achievement and one that I'm thankful I was able to experience with my teammates."

It will take a while for her to get over the stinging loss. But at least for now, the IIHF is off her back. And that's what the Olympics are really about, aren't they? Smiling along, even when you're devastated, because the cameras are on. Not really. It's still a competition.

Canada's women's team will have to wait four years for another chance at the gold medal. For Larocque and the others, it's a long time to wait.

With a file from Canadian Press

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