US speedskating preps for painful self-assessment

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 17, 2014 at 4:03 pm •  Published: February 17, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Shani Davis and the rest of U.S. speedskating pursuit team finished up their last hard lap of the training session, then coasted around the oval with hands on their knees.

"Good work! Good work!" a coach yelled, as the ice resurfacing machines fired up their engines.

Despite a miserable Olympics, the Americans are not giving up on a medal before they get out of Sochi.

No matter what happens over the last four events, though, the program faces a painful self-assessment that could lead to profound changes.

"The review and evaluation will begin on my plane flight home," Ted Morris, executive director of the national governing body, told The Associated Press on Monday, an off day in the competition.

After arriving at the Winter Games armed with impressive results during the World Cup season and a new suit that was supposedly the fastest in the world, the Americans have been a total bust at Adler Arena. They are facing their first medals shutout since 1984, a major blow to a sport that attracts little attention in the U.S. outside of an Olympic year.

Morris knows the lack of success in Sochi will make his job much tougher when it comes to raising funds, lining up new sponsors, and persuading promising athletes to try on a pair of clapskates.

"We definitely count on the Olympics helping us in attracting new talent to the sport. It also helps us grow membership and grow revenue," he said. "It's not necessarily going to help from a partner standpoint or a fundraising standpoint if we don't have success. Once every four years, people pay attention. And the thing is: We don't have any stars at this Olympics Games. That's not going to help either."

While the Dutch team's record-setting performance is the talk of the arena, the U.S. collapse is also drawing plenty of attention. No American has finished higher than seventh, and the poor performances essentially run throughout the team, with an average finish of 19th in the first eight events — four places lower than the 2010 average at Vancouver.

"They were really, really good in the fall World Cups. And if you look at their trials, too, they were really fast," said former U.S. coach Bart Schouten, who now works with the Canadian team. "We were like, 'Wow, these guys are going to rock the house in Sochi.'"

Instead, they landed with a thud.

Morris said the team is focused on its remaining events, though it has little hope of medals in the men's 10,000 or women's 5,000. The team pursuits are a bit more promising, but it doesn't look good the way the Americans have been skating at these games.