Speedskaters Stay Positive Despite Medal Drought
SOCHI, Russia – In the locker room before the women’s 1,500-meter speedskating race Sunday, Brittany Bowe picked up two empty water bottles.
She told her roommate, Heather Richardson, “If I make it in this trash can, it’s going to be a good day.”
Bowe, a former point guard at Florida Atlantic University, hit the first one. Moving to the other side of the room, she made the second one.
“I’m like, ‘It’s going to be a good day,’” Richardson said.
Unfortunately, it was not good enough for a Team USA medal in speedskating at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Bowe and Richardson came into the event ranked 3-4 in the world, but were eclipsed by a Dutch 1-2-3-4 sweep led by Jorien ter Mors, who set an Olympic record of 1 minute, 53.51 seconds.
Richardson was in third place after skating in the 14th pair, then was quickly passed by four other skaters. She finished seventh with a time of 1: 57.60. Bowe, skating in the 17th pair, finished 14th, clocking 1:58.31, well off her American record of 1:52.45. Jilleanne Rookard was 18th in 1:59.15.
All three Americans are former inline skaters who made the transition to ice.
“I think it’s one of my best sea-level 1,500s, so I can’t really complain there,” said Richardson. “I was more relaxed going into this race because I had no pressure. I just wanted to have fun. And I think that showed.”
Bowe, who had a world cup win in the 1,500 this season and one other podium, said she didn’t hit the lap times she wanted or get up to speed as fast as she should have.
“I gave it my all and that’s all I can ask for,” Bowe said. “At this point, I’m going to chalk it up as a win. Going out there, skating my best and trying hard until the finish line.”
Through eight days of skating, Team USA has been shut out of the medals. No athlete has placed higher than seventh.
“It’s really surprising since we’ve all been on the podium this season,” Richardson said. “I think we were all just trying to stay positive. We’re trying to forget each day and start fresh each day.”
Team USA was touted to win as many as eight medals going in, so the American performance has been baffling. New high-tech skinsuits — they replaced before the men’s and women’s 1,500s for older models — and a high-altitude training camp have been blamed by the media for the disappointing results.
Bowe said it “could be a million different factors.”
“Obviously it’s unfortunate,” she said. “Nobody wants to be in the position that we’re in. But we’re here and we’re doing what we can with it. And that is going out there and trying 100 percent any time we get on the ice.”
Although Bowe is the world-record holder in the 1,000, Richardson had the better world cup season in that event. Each hoped to carry momentum into Sochi. But Richardson placed seventh in the 1,000 and Bowe was eighth.
“I went home and cried forever about the 1,000,” Richardson said, “but I have to let go at some point and just focus on the rest of my races, and that¹s what I tried to do.”
Four events are left on the oval at the Adler Arena: the men’s 10,000 and women’s 5,000, in which U.S. athletes are not among the favorites, and the team pursuit events.
“Our guys are very strong in the team pursuit and our girls have an outside chance at a medal,” said Team USA coach Ryan Shimabukuro, noting that no decision has been made about the participation of four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis.
The U.S. has not been shut out in long track speedskating since 1984 in Sarajevo. Team USA won eight medals in Salt Lake City in 2002, seven medals in Torino, Italy, in 2006 and four in Vancouver in 2010.
“It could just be the perfect storm right now that’s going the other way for us,” Shimabukuro said.
It’s going the right way for the Netherlands, which posted its third sweep Sunday. The Dutch have won 16 speedskating medals, a record for any country in any sport at one Winter Games. Austria held the previous mark with 14 alpine skiing medals in 2006.
“It’s their national sport,” said Shimabukuro. “I think we’ve done very well considering the resources and the popularity that speedskating has in the U.S. We have a long history of success. I think we do very well considering that we’re a very, very tiny sport in the U.S.”
Richardson’s fiancé is Dutch speedskater Jorrit Bergsma, the bronze medalist in the men’s 5,000.
“I asked my fiancé what the secret was,” she said, “and he didn’t have one.”