SOCHI, Russia — Shani Davis turned to a cartoon character to sum up the American speedskating collapse at these Winter Olympics.
It certainly seemed unreal.
With two more defeats Friday, the U.S. speedskaters completed a stunning flop on the sport’s biggest stage, assuring their first medal shutout since 1984.
When asked to put it all in perspective, Davis broke out his imitation of Comic Book Guy from the animated television show “The Simpsons.”
“Worst Olympics ever,” Davis said.
How low did the Americans sink in Sochi?
The women actually high-fived each other after their showing against the mighty Netherlands, even though they lost by a rather daunting 3.60 seconds. Maybe that’s because the Americans did go fast enough to claim a spot in Saturday’s “C” final, which will determine which teams finish fifth and sixth overall. Either will go down as the best U.S. showing of these games.
No American skater placed higher than seventh in an individual event, and the men’s team was relegated Saturday to the “D” final, which will decide the last two positions in the eight-team field.
“We did the best we could,” said Davis, who won gold and silver at each of the last two Winter Games. “We took the four days in between to get ready. It was something that was within our grasp, but we just couldn’t quite get there.”
The only times the Americans have failed to win an Olympic speedskating medal were 1956 — when there were only four men’s events — and the Sarajevo Games three decades ago, when a couple of fourth-place finishes at least gave the U.S. a sniff of the podium.
This time, they weren’t even close, in what will surely go down as the worst performance in the country’s proud speedskating history — and one that is especially baffling, given the team’s strong performance on the World Cup circuit this season.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I’m just choosing to smile about it,” Jilleanne Rookard said. “What else are you going to do?”
The Americans were hoping to salvage at least one medal out of their miserable performance in Sochi, but the men were in trouble right from the start. Kuck struggled to keep up as Davis and Hansen sprinted from the line. Davis fell off the pace in the closing laps, and Canada pulled away to win comfortably by 3.52.
“We were out of sync,” Davis said. “We practiced it, but probably we didn’t practice it enough. The teams that do well out there are the ones that specialize in skating with each other. They have a program, they work with each other, they work for each other.”
Nothing worked for the Americans.
“It was a bad race,” Kuck said. “We struggled out there. I can’t think of a worse team pursuit we’ve done, so it’s hard to have that happen at the Olympics.”
Heather Richardson, Brittany Bowe and Rookard fared better in the early going of their women’s quarterfinal against the Dutch. But fading over the last 2½ laps, they simply couldn’t keep up with the country that has already won 21 medals at the oval and is assured of a 22nd in men’s team pursuit.
“It’s a super solid race for us,” Richardson insisted. “I actually think it’s the best team pursuit that we’ve had all season, technique-wise and staying together. It’s definitely our fastest low-land, so we can take that away from this race. Obviously the best placement we’ve had this whole games. Hopefully we can get that fifth spot.”
But there won’t be a medal for the U.S. speedskaters.
Not at these games.
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