SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The U.S. speedskating team's best Olympic performances have come on home ice. Now, in the faraway Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, the Americans think they have a shot at matching their biggest medal haul.
"Oh, I definitely think that's realistic," said Heather Richardson, one of several top contenders on the U.S. squad.
The 2002 team won eight medals in Salt Lake City, a performance that still reverberates through the program, leading to improved training methods and the American team moving largely to the Utah Olympic Oval. The only other time the U.S. captured as many as eight medals was 1980, also on home ice at Lake Placid with Eric Heiden carrying the bulk of the load with five golds.
"The home-field advantage plays to the host country," U.S. sprint coach Ryan Shimabukuro said Thursday, about 48 hours before the start of speedskating at Adler Arena. "That's been shown through and through at every Olympics."
That means the Russians will likely perform better than their World Cup results have shown. Throw in the Dutch, who appear to have one of their strongest teams ever, and it's going to be especially challenging to claim a spot on the podium in Sochi.
That said, the Americans have plenty of medal hopefuls.
Start with Shani Davis, the two-time defending gold medalist in the 1,000 meters and a silver medalist in the 1,500 at the last two Olympics. At 31 and possibly competing in his final Winter Games, he is especially motivated to add to his legacy as one of the sport's most complete skaters — even planning to join team pursuit for the first time at the Olympics.
Though not at Davis' level, Brian Hansen and Tucker Fredricks have also shown they can compete with the world's best from time to time. They just need to show they can do it on the biggest stage.