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Olympics: U.S. speedskaters finish out a miserable Olympics

Published February 21, 2014 2:53 pm

Speedskating• Long-track racers go home without a medal; only short track team pulls through on final day
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sochi, Russia •Â Shani Davis, one of the greatest speedskaters in the long history of the sport, is leaving the Sochi Olympics without a single medal, perhaps never to return.

The 31-year-old world-record holder and part-time Salt Lake City resident skated his final race here on Friday, and after all the misfortune that has befallen him and U.S. Speedskating over the past two weeks, it was fitting that he and his teammates were eliminated from medal contention in the first round of the men's team pursuit — another event in which they were expected to contend for the podium.

"That was rough," he said, laughing at the thought of how badly it has gone. "I hope that was my last race here in Sochi."

The Americans are leaving the Olympics without a long-track medal for the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Games — the women were bounced in their first pursuit race, too, while the powerful Netherlands set an Olympic record — with Davis getting inexplicably shut out in all four of his races, including the 1,000 and 1,500, the distances at which he holds the world record and has won four Olympic medals during his illustrious career.

Only hours later did U.S. Speedskating finally win a medal, when the men's short-track team earned silver in the last medal event of the program.

Before that, Davis refused to close the door on a return for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea, but said he needs some time to figure out what went wrong for him in Sochi and whether he still has the passion to train and race for another four years.

"I don't know what happened here," he said. "I have to re-evaluate. I have to do some research. I have to figure out some things if I'm going to continue to move on and grow stronger. I have to figure out what went wrong."

The short version?

Pretty much everything.

Up and down the roster, the Americans failed to live up to expectations here, and controversy has swirled about what went wrong.

Everything from the new high-tech (and since abandoned) skinsuits made by Under Armour to the pre-Olympic training regimen have been blamed, and skater Maria Lamb of Park City blasted U.S. Speedskating for "systematic" failings over the years, pointing the finger specifically at former executive director Mark Greenwald and high-performance director Finn Halvorsen.

"For all of us, it's been a painful experience in many ways," she said after finishing last in the 5,000 on Wednesday. "Over the last few years, a few of us have raced better in spite of the organization rather than because of it. That [expletive] adds up over the years, and unfortunately it came to a head that we could no longer perform well."

New executive director Ted Morris and president Mike Plant have promised a post-Olympic review of the disastrous performances here, and learned Friday that Under Armour plans to extend its sponsorship of the team through 2022, despite all the problems.

The head of Under Armour said the suit was not to blame, and told USA Today that the company is "doubling down" on the speedskaters with its extended agreement, which will last through the next two Olympics.

"We will not stick our heads in the sand," CEO Kevin Plank said. "We want people to know that when we get knocked down, we get back up bigger, better and stronger."

Nevertheless, Davis agreed with Lamb that the federation needs another overhaul.

"We have to destroy and rebuild," he said.

"We came in being one of the most decorated disciplines in the winter Olympics and we come away with zero medals," he added. "It's horrible. But it's not up to me to figure out the change. It's up to the staff, the people. The high-performance directors, the coaches. That's their job. My job was simply to skate. And I have to make changes within myself, clearly, if I want to be better than what I displayed here."

While Davis joined teammate Brian Hansen and Jonathan Kuck in losing the team pursuit race to Canada by a whopping 3.52 seconds — the Americans have lost every race here by huge margins — West Jordan's Heather Richardson and Salt Lake City's Brittany Bowe were part of the women's team that lost by 3.60 seconds to the powerful Netherlands, which set an Olympic record after already winning a record 21 medals here.

Still, Richardson and Bowe were happy with their best performance of the Olympics, noting they can still finish fifth in the consolations rounds Saturday — the men will skate for seventh, with Salt Lake resident Joey Mantia replacing Davis in the lineup — and refused to take shots at the federation.

"I definitely have faith in our federation and coaching staff that they'll do the best thing possible for us," Bowe said.