SOCHI, Russia — Instead of breaking medal-count records, the U.S. speedskating team is explaining why its best skaters aren’t even close to the podium.
"We’re obviously trying to evaluate the variables that could be there," said U.S. sprint coach Ryan Shimabukuro, "but nothing that I’m going to go on record with. We’re halfway through the competition."
And when the skaters are asked, they maintain the rest of the world is just going faster.
“That’s what it’s about is being able to perform when it counts and, unfortunately, we haven’t had the results we want,” said Brittany Bowe, who owns the world record at the 1,000 meters but only managed eighth place Thursday night. “I thought I was on a great one, but I just didn’t go fast enough. I’m sure we’ll be able to pick things out and improve on them.”
The problem is no one is pointing to any issues that might change the disappointing results that’s affected men and women long and short track.
“I felt fine,” said Heather Richardson, who is ranked No. 1 in the world at that distance, but finished seventh. “I mean, I was top going into the race, and I gave it my best and that’s all I could do.”
China’s Hong Zhang earned gold with a time of 1:14.02, while Ireen Wust, Netherlands, was second with a time of 1:14.69. Her teammate Margot Boer, Netherlands, was third with a time of 1:14.90.
Bowe started fast and stayed in the hunt for the first lap, but faded near the finish. Still, she insisted that there is no problem to be fixed.
“I thought I was on a really good one,” she said after skating the distance in 1:15.47. “I had a really fast opener, fast first lap, and was just trying to hang in there on that last lap. When I looked at the board, I thought it was going to be a faster time. Immediately, I was pretty disappointed.”
To say this team is underachieving would be a gross understatement.
Expectations were so high for this year’s Olympic team, there was talk of them earning a record-breaking number of medals. In 2002, U.S. speedskaters won a record eight medals in Salt Lake City.
Halfway through the competition, most are now hoping they don’t get shut out and wodering what might be wrong.
“I don’t think anything went wrong,” Bowe said. “I think the top three girls laid down some pretty fast times, and they absolutely deserved that 1-2-3 with the performance they put down.”
The women said they will watch film with their coaches and try to see where they can improve. They said they feel great and expect they should be able to perform better in their remaining events — the 1,500 and the team relay.
“Physically, I feel fine,” said Richardson, whose time was 1:15.23. “I think it’s the most fit I’ve been this season. I think everyone’s getting faster in Sochi. Obviously it’s disappointing, but it’s all we could do.”
Bowe said she’s going to spend some time with her family and try to enjoy her first Olympic experience.
“I’m going to take a step back, enjoy my family,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that I didn’t get the result. But it’s my first Olympics and I couldn’t be more happy to be here representing my country. It’s just been an awesome experience.”