This November’s issue of GQ magazine (on newsstands everywhere) contains a feature by Michael Idov about Alex Ovechkin called, “Ovechkin With Love.” Below we have included a few notable excerpts from the article. Topics include Ovechkin’s childhood, his adoration in DC, the nightlife in Moscow, and girls. Yes, Ovi finally goes on the record on which girls he likes more: Russian or American.
His may be the perfect face of the NHL: broad, broken-toothed, misshapen by countless on-ice collisions. An affable slavic caveman with an NHL Scoring Title. A dazzling highlight reel. And the Capital of the free world in his glove, blood-stained hand.
If only he had a Stanley Cup to go with it. Michael Idov tracks down Alex Ovechkin enjoying the off-season in Moscow: brooding, training, and finding solace in the arms of Mother Russia.
If Alexander Ovechkin’s first name is perfect – “the Great” attaches easily enough – his last name couldn’t be more ironic if Alanis Morissette wrote a song about it. It means “little lamb.” Little, I repeat, lamb. Not only little, but a female one. In Russian, an ovechka is a girl lamb.
The man himself looks more like Jaws, the henchman from the Bond films with a touch of Jaws the shark. His face, a wide, flat Slavic canvas, has been creatively rearranged by dozens of amateur surgeons so that the nose now sits slightly off center and the wide-set eyes appear asymmetrical; when Ovechkin grins, which is often, a diagonally broken incisor flashes like a fang. One wonders how he avoids impaling his own tongue on it. One wonders how he does a lot of things.
Fair-weather, for sure: The capital wasn’t much of a hockey town until Ovechkin came along. But DC loves Ovie with the hysterical ardor of a rescued damsel. Barack Obama promised Caps owner Ted Leonsis that he’ll come to a game this season. The local sports network, CSN Washington, runs things like “8 Days of Ovechkin.” A local blog follows his whereabouts and posts sightings. [Ed Note: He means Alex Ovetjkin. Congrats, TJ!] He gets black-tie parties throw for him and keys to the city thrown at him. (His acceptance speech: “Today is a big day. I have a key for the city. And I’m the president this day in the city, so everybody have fun – and no speed limit.”) If you live in DC, Ovechkin is hockey.
Ovie’s schooling would fall on what the Russians now like to call “the roaring 1990s,” a carnival of raw greed and criminality. Moscow ’92 was Chicago ’29, with less sausage. Nascent capitalists got gunned down in the streets by former Young Communists. “You did what you had to do,” shrugs Ovechkin. The country had found new icons: the banker, the gangster, the dollar itself. In a 1992 survey of Russian high school students by two Western academics, 60 percent of girls said they would exchange sex for hard currency. Such was the world into which Ovechkin would be released. For a guy with not much in the way of academic achievement – and Ovie, let’s be honest, was a genius only on the ice- career options were limited: Driver. Body-guard. Hit man.
Luckily there was hockey. There was always hockey, despite the family’s basketball gene. Tales of Ovechkin’s childhood brim with prophetic apocrypha: When he was 2, he grabbed a toy hockey stick at a store and wouldn’t let go; at 5, he glimpsed a Dynamo game on TV and cried until Dad switched the channel back; at 10, he hit a goalpost so hard the puck broke in half. (His coach kept the halves as a kind of religious artifact.) Hockey got him out of P.S. 596, where he made it through eight and a half grades before switching to Dynamo’s “sports school.” The twice-daily training sessions – morning and night – left little time for anything else. He’d be up at 6am, eat a bowl of porridge served by Dad (Tatyana was often on the road with her team), and head into the dawn. When he got home from hockey, he played more hockey – with neighbors’ kids, in the yard, in a hallway with the furniture moved to one side. “You dive into sport with your head and arms and legs, and there’s no time for anything else,” he tells me. “There’s no other career.”
By the time Ovechkin reached his teens, his eldest brother, Sergei, had died in a car crash at 25. His first coach, Vyacheslav Kirillov, was dead from heart failure at 29. His friends were getting high and getting dead. College was a distant fantasy. When I ask Alex where his school peers ended up, he recalls only one success story: a guy who “plays rock ‘n’ roll band.” And the rest? “Some are in prison. A lot of them are dead. Drugs and all that crap. When you leave school and try to find work, your priorities immediately change. That’s when the drugs get you.”
Ovi in Moscow
These days, when Ovechkin hits Moscow, his nightlife itinerary is more varied. He is 25, single, a multimillionaire, handsome in a brutal way. This summer the Russian edition of Tatler called him the country’s most eligible bachelor – a case, perhaps, of belaboring the point. Ovechkin’s main hunting grounds are Sunrise, Rai, and Soho Rooms, three of Moscow’s flashiest bottle-service clubs. “In Moscow, if you have money, you’re king,” he says with a lopsided grin. “If you don’t – sorry, man, get lost. I mean, it’s like this everywhere. But in Moscow, it’s much more hard-core.”
“There’s some quality action at Soho Rooms, real high quality,” he says when we start talking clubs. “You should go pick up some telochki.” The word literally means “calves” and semantically falls somewhere between “chicks” and “bitches.” “Especially if you you’ve got your own table. Just go up to the girls, say, ‘I’ve got a table,’ and they’ll hop right along.”
I do that smug thing married guys do, where you stick out your hand and use the thumb to wiggle the wedding ring on the ring finger.
“Aw, come on, who’s gonna see?” pushes Ovechkin. …
In Washington, where he spends most of his time, Ovechkin’s life is infinitely more placid. He is on his best behavior there, mindful of his stature. In Moscow, he can’t help but revert to his teenage self. Hence the silly Pyramid, hence the giddy telochki talk. “Moscow is a big city,” he says. “It’s all nerves – something’s always happening somewhere. DC is a quiet, calm family town.” He lives in a house in Arlington, Virginia, he bought his rookie year; his parents who keep a home base in Moscow , and his brother, Mikhail, who works with the WNBA, are frequent guests. And if Ovechkin’s exploits don’t reach American tabloids, perhaps that’s because he’s simply not into American girls. “If you compare Russia and America,” he explains sagely,”they are two different worlds. People, cars, clothes. Girls’ figures. Especially girls’ figures. Why do you think that is, that when an American goes to Russia for a week, he stays for two extra weeks? Girls! And when a Russian goes to America for a week, he leaves in five days. I’m serious! There’s a statistic! [Ed Note: I’m dubious.] Ask any American about Russia. You know what they’ll say.”
The conversation ends abruptly. Ovechkin’s dangerous-looking friend Magomet, whom Alex has been texting throughout our talk (he texts nonstop, with prodigious smileys), has rolled up in an Audi SUV painted a scabrous matte black. For a while, we cruise down Tverskaya. Each time he sees a pretty girl walking by, Ovechkin shouts “BOOM!” at the top of his lungs.
To read the rest of the story, make sure to buy the newest GQ, available now!