Nothing delivered worldwide attention to U.S. Speedskating over the last four years like the coaching abuse allegations and skate-tampering scandal that turned athletes against each other, cost two coaches their jobs and left one Olympian suspended for two years.
But that might be about to change.
U.S. Speedskating has thrived at the last three Olympics, in particular:
Year Long-Track Short-Track Total
2010 4 6 10
2006 7 3 10
2002 8 3 11
1998 2 0 2
1994 3 4 7
1992* 2 2 4
*Short-track became an Olympic event in 1992.
U.S. speedskaters to watch
Shani Davis » He’s the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 1,000, and the world-record holder in the 1,000 and 1,500. He’ll be a big favorite in both, and he also expects to compete in the 500, in what could be his last Olympics.
Heather Richardson » She’s a former world sprint champion who could medal in all three of her races, the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters. She medaled at each distance during the World Cup season, after failing to medal in any of them at the 2010 Olympics.
Brittany Bowe » She set the world record in the 1,000 during the World Cup season, and is a top medal threat alongside Richardson in the 1,000 and 1,500. She won medals in six of eight World Cup races at those distances this year, winning twice.
Brian Hansen » Always overshadowed by Davis in the middle distances, his best times of the season nevertheless rank among the top three in the world. He won silver in the relay in 2010, and stands poised to medal individually in either the 1,000 or 1,500 this time.
J.R. Celski » He’s a former world champion, and the heir apparent to the retired Apolo Ohno. He medaled twice in the World Cup finale this season, and helped the relay team stand on the podium three times in four races. Pencil him in for at least one medal.
In spite of all the turmoil of the quadrennial — all the sordid accusations, all the embarrassing scandals, all the divided loyalties and hurt feelings — the federation based at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns is poised to enjoy one of its best performances ever at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia.
The Americans have at least five of the best skaters in the world, and could challenge the record 11-medal haul they made at the 2002 Salt Lake Games — even without Apolo Anton Ohno, the nation’s most decorated Winter Olympian, and Katherine Reutter, a former world champion and two-time Olympic medalist.
"We’ve sat around the office and played with the numbers, and it could get exciting," said Ted Morris, the executive director at U.S. Speedskating. "But at the same time, we know that the rest of the world is going to be ready to go."
Ohno has retired to the commentary box with NBC Sports after three Olympics, and Reutter gave up the sport prematurely due to chronic injuries.
But a handful of remaining veterans are top medal threats.
Shani Davis is a two-time Olympic long-track champion and world-record holder, with Brian Hansen right on his heels. Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe are among the top-ranked women in the world. And J.R. Celski is a former world short-track champion and Olympic bronze medalist intent on picking up where Ohno — his boyhood idol — left off.
"I tried to resume his role and kind of take it over as best I could," Celski said. "I really wanted to step up and lead this team, because I knew I could."
In 2002, the Americans won eight long-track medals and three in short-track, and followed that with 10-medal hauls at the 2006 Turin Games in Italy and the 2010 Vancouver Games in Canada.
"We would be ecstatic to be able to maintain at that level," Morris said. "That would be a huge accomplishment. … If we came away with six we’d still be happy. So, six we’re happy. Ten, we’re ecstatic. More than that, we’re over the moon."
The moon might want to watch out.
In long track, Davis will be a favorite in his two best races, the 1,000 and 1,500 meters; he holds the world-record in both. Richardson could medal in three events — she will race the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 — while Bowe is a good bet to join her on the podium in two, including the 1,000, in which she holds the world record.
Celski, meanwhile, could medal in any number of the four short-track events, though that’s much harder to predict than long-track because of the capricious nature of the fast-and-furious sport.
"I’m happy that the level of competition in America has risen so high," Davis said. "It’s only going to make us stronger, and we’ll be able to go out as a team together and compete harder against the guys in the world."
The best-case scenario could deliver the Americans to the brink of their medal record with just their top four skaters. Throw in a few others who also could stand on the podium, and the record just might fall.
Hansen has been chasing Davis harder and harder, for example — and his best times in the 1,000 and 1,500 both rank in the top three in the world, suggesting the 2010 relay silver medalist could rival his fellow Illinois native in the medal count.
Both three-time Olympian Tucker Fredricks and two-timer Mitch Whitmore have a puncher’s chance in the 500, too, with top times that rank only hundredths of a second out of the top three.
Same with Jonathan Kuck in the 5,000, where he ranks seventh in the world, and short-tracker Jessica Smith, whose medal chances in three events improved with the news this week that four-time Olympic champion Wang Meng of China probably will miss the Olympics with a broken leg.
"We’re pretty strong and really happy and satisfied with the team we’ve built," long-track coach Ryan Shimabukuro said. "From a coach’s perspective, I think we’re taking one of our strongest teams to the Olympic Games."
That might have been hard to imagine just a couple of years ago, when the scandal erupted.Next Page >
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