Sochi, Russia • First Bode Miller, then Shaun White, and now Shani Davis.
The superstar, high-profile American men are falling left and right at the Sochi Olympics, threatening to spoil the competition for Team USA after a record medal haul at the Vancouver Games in Canada four years ago. Good thing some of the women and newcomers are helping out.
Davis was the latest favorite to go down, with the legendary speedskater finishing only eighth in the 1,000 meters on Wednesday in his attempt to become the first man to win gold in the same event in three straight Olympics. He never was close to contending, a stunning development for the world-record holder at the distance, which he affectionately calls "my baby."
"There’s no excuse," Davis said. "I just simply didn’t have the speed."
The 31-year-old part-time Salt Lake City resident was perplexed at what became of his trademark power through the middle of the race, which turned the spotlight on U.S. Speedskating’s failure so far to reach the podium.
Most of its top medal threats have their best events yet to come, but the top skaters have nonetheless underperformed despite high expectations and heralded new high-tech suits made by Under Armour, purportedly the best in the world.
"There hasn’t been any luck for the U.S.," said Brian Hansen, who had the second-fastest time in the world behind Davis in the 1,000 this season but finished ninth. "It’s a mystery to me. I think it’s a mystery to a lot of people, except the Dutch."
Indeed, the Netherlands has done everything but paint the podium orange at Adler Arena.
Its skaters have won four of the five races contested so far — Stefan Groothuis won the 1,000 in 1 minutes, 8.39 seconds — as well as 10 of the 15 medals available. Its men have swept the 500 and the 5,000, and are favored to do the same in the 10,000.
The Americans should be so lucky.
Miller, a five-time Olympic medalist and one of the best Alpine skiers in history, was their first big name to go down, finishing eighth in the downhill after installing himself as a top contender by dominating the training runs. Then it was snowboard icon Shaun White, who finished fourth and did not even medal in his attempt to win a third straight halfpipe title.
And now, Davis, who managed a decent start — never his strength, anyway — but quickly faded. He finished a whopping 0.73 seconds behind Groothius.
"I felt fast in the opener," Davis said, referring to the first 200 meters. "But just after the opener, I just couldn’t do it, man. … I feel fine physically. It’s just that I wasn’t fast enough today, and I don’t know why. But I have to try to figure it out."
Davis will race the 1,500 on Saturday, hoping to improve on back-to-back silver-medal finishes at that distance in the Olympics. He holds the world-record in that event, too, but has not fared as well as he had in the 1,000 on the World Cup circuit this season.
Davis won three of the four 1,000 races — he has 39 wins in his career, the most all-time — with a third-place finish in the other one. In the 1,500, he was first and second in the first two races, but then fifth and eighth in the last two.
"This one hurts me a lot, but kudos to the people who were able to go out there and achieve their dreams," he said. "It’s a great feeling, I’m aware of it. And now I have to look for the feeling in the 1,500 meters race."
The Americans are tied for fourth among nations in Sochi with nine medals, including three gold — one of them won by Park City’s Sage Kotsenburg in snowboarding slopestyle and another by Salt Lake City resident Kaitlyn Farrington in snowboarding halfpipe on Wednesday night.
Women have been key to the U.S. efforts, in fact, with seven of the medals — including a ski slopestyle silver by Park City resident Devin Logan and a super-combined bronze by former Park City resident Julia Mancuso.
The men have only one medal, with the other coming in figure skating’s new mixed team event.
World champion ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson of Park City joined the group of disappointed Americans when she failed to medal in her sport’s first appearance at the Olympics, just six months after knee surgery.
But some of her fellow Utahns will be counted on to help reverse Team USA’s fortunes in the coming days — including ski racer Ted Ligety, skeleton slider Noelle Pikus-Pace and reigning four-man bobsled driver Steven Holcomb.
All three are among the favorites to stand on the podium.
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