Another day of racing at the Olympic speedskating oval, and still no medals for the United States. No answers, either, as to what is causing the team’s most dismal performance in 30 years. With every passing day, the maelstrom surrounding the team grows, as does the pack of journalists peppering the skaters with questions.
Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe failed to medal in the women’s 1,500 race on Sunday, leaving the U.S. team facing the very real possibility of going home empty-handed for the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Richardson finished seventh, and Bowe, a former basketball player at Florida Atlantic University, was 14th.
Team USA has gone eight days at these Olympics without a medal, and only their weaker events remain. They are 0 for 24 in possible medals, and have yet to put in a top-six finish. This from a roster that includes Shani Davis, the two-time gold medalist and record holder in the 1,000, and Bowe, the world-record holder in the 1,000.
Richardson and Bowe finished 1-2 in three of four 1,000-meter World Cup races this season, and yet, they were seventh and eighth here.
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What in the name of Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen is going on?
The most convenient culprit was the controversial new space-age suits engineered by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. Skaters never raced in them before arriving at the Olympics, so when favorites underperformed, they began questioning whether the suits were slowing them down. They voted Friday night to abandon the new suits and revert to earlier more familiar suits.
It made no difference. New suits, old suits, same results.
The Dutch, meanwhile, with their orange-crazed fans and brass band rooting them on, have won 16 of the 24 medals here, including a sweep of the women’s 1,500. Gold medalist Jorien Ter Mors won in an Olynpic-record time of 1:53.51. Ireen Wust won silver, and Lotte Van Beek took bronze.
“Obviously, there’s disappointment,’’ U.S. coach Ryan Shumabukura said. “As a team collectively, coming into the Games we had some of the highest expectations of all the teams, including the Dutch. And so, when we fall very short, it’s tough.
“But the worst thing you can do is all of a sudden start throwing darts. It could be just the perfect storm right now that’s going the other way for us.”
Asked whether they should have tested the suits before the Olympics, the coach said: “Hindsight’s 20-20. That’s something we’ll look at.”
Could it be that they should have trained at sea level rather than at altitude, considering Adler Arena is a few blocks from the Black Sea?
“Altitude’s not an issue,” Shumabukura said.
He pointed out that U.S. skaters have won World Cup races at sea level, and that they did well in Vancouver after altitude training camps.
Richardson said: “After the 1,000 I went home and cried a million times, but eventually you have to let it go and concentrate on the other races.”
Said Bowe: “Obviously, it’s unfortunate, but there are a million factors. No one wants to be in this situation.”
Said Shumabukura: “It could have been a lack of momentum after a few underperformances.
But team officials won’t do a full analysis until after the Games.
“It’s too emotional right now,” Shumabukura said.