American speedskaters shut out

Shani Davis

SOCHI, Russia -- Shani Davis turned to a cartoon character to sum up the American speedskating collapse at the Winter Olympics.

It certainly seemed unreal.

With two more defeats Friday, the U.S. speedskaters completed a stunning flop on the sport's biggest stage, assuring their first medal shutout since 1984.

When asked to put it in perspective, Davis broke out his imitation of Comic Book Guy from the animated television show "The Simpsons."

"Worst Olympics ever," Davis said.

How low did the U.S. sink in Sochi?

The women actually seemed pleased with their performance Friday against the mighty Netherlands, even though they lost by a rather daunting 3.60 seconds. Maybe that's because they did go fast enough to claim a spot in Saturday's "C" final, which will determine the teams that finish fifth and sixth overall. Either will go down as the best U.S. showing of these games.

No American placed higher than seventh in an individual event, and the men's team was relegated to the "D" final, which will decide the last two positions in the eight-team field.

"We did the best we could," said Davis, who won gold and silver at each of the past two Winter Games. "We took the four days in between to get ready. It was something that was within our grasp, but we just couldn't quite get there."

The U.S. did manage a silver medal in the final short track event, the 5,000 meter relay, but that's little consolation to the long track team.

The only times the U.S. team has failed to win an Olympic medal in speedskating were 1956 (when there were only four men's events) and the Sarajevo Games three decades ago, when a couple of fourth-place finishes at least gave the Americans a sniff of the podium.

This time, they weren't even close in what will surely go down as the worst performance in the country's proud speedskating history -- one that is especially baffling given the team's strong performance on the World Cup circuit this season.

"I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but I'm just choosing to smile about it," Jilleanne Rookard said. "What else are you going to do?"

The U.S. was hoping to salvage at least one medal in Sochi, but the men were in trouble from the start. Jonathan Kuck struggled to keep up as Davis and Brian Hansen sprinted from the line. Davis fell off the pace in the closing laps, handing Canada a 3.52-second win.

"We were out of sync," Davis said. "We practiced it, but probably we didn't practice it enough. The teams that do well out there are the ones that specialize in skating with each other. They have a program, they work with each other, they work for each other."

Nothing worked for the Americans.

"It was a bad race," Kuck said. "We struggled out there. I can't think of a worse team pursuit we've done, so it's hard to have that happen at the Olympics."

Brittany Bowe, Heather Richardson and Rookard fared better in the early going of their quarterfinal against the Dutch. But fading badly over the last 2½ laps, they lost by 3.60.

"It's a super solid race for us," Richardson said. "I actually think it's the best team pursuit that we've had all season, technique-wise and staying together. It's definitely our fastest low-land, so we can take that away from this race. Obviously the best placement we've had this whole games. Hopefully we can get that fifth spot."

On the other end of the spectrum, the Netherlands sealed its 22nd speedskating medal of the games with two dominant performances.  Sven Kramer, Jan Blokhuijsen and Koen Verweij routed France by 8.70 seconds in the quarterfinals and then went even faster in the semifinals, nearly lapping Poland and winning by 11.30.

They will face South Korea in Saturday's final, assured of at least a silver.

The Dutch women have a little more work to do, because the semifinals and final are both Saturday. But Ireen Wust, Lotte van Beek and Jorien ter Mors gave every indication that they'll make it 23 medals for the Orange Wave, which would be an Olympic record.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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