May 7, 2014 (ISN) – A report has blamed the worst Winter Olympic performance by a United States speed skating team in 30 years on the suit they wore at Sochi 2014.
America won seven medals, including three gold, at Turin 2006 in long track speed skating, and after falling to one gold in a three medal haul at Vancouver 2010, were targeting seven or eight medals in Sochi.
But the team were swept aside in one event after another in their first medal-less performance since Sarajevo 1984, with the decline epitomised by the plight of four-time medallist, and 1,000 metres champion in Turin and Vancouver, Shani Davis, who finished only eighth over 1,000m and 24th over 500m.
The best US performances were three seventh place finishes, for Brian Hansen over 1,000m and Heather Richardson over 1,000m and 1,500m.
The competition was utterly dominated by the Netherlands, who won eight out of 12 available gold medals, while the remaining four events were won by skaters from China, Japan, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Following the disappointment various members of the team blamed new Under Armour suits, which were introduced shortly before the Games, for their slow times, and an internal assessment has concluded they did contribute to the poor showing.
This was particularly because the team had not worn the suits in the build up to the Games, so were unused to them, while the actual benefit of the suits was unknown.
The US team, like the rest of the world, were utterly outclassed by the Netherlands in Sochi ©AFP/Getty Images
“The idea that we would give these game-changers to our athletes right before the Olympics and they would get to the line and feel like they had an advantage,” the executive director of US Speed Skating Ted Morris told the Wall Street Journal.
“That did not work.
“The lesson there is that if we have game-changers like that, let’s introduce them in December, not February.”
The team were switched back to an older model of the suits during the Games, but that failed to produce a revival of fortunes, and US coach Kip Carpenter was among those to be skeptical that the suit was making a significant difference.
“A skater does not lose a second [on the 1,000m] because of a skinsuit,” he said during the Games.
“Anyone who thinks that, does not know speed skating. In my opinion, the Dutch are just sitting deeper and pushing harder, they are just skating better than us.”
As well as the suits, the report also blamed the squad pre-Olympic training camp in Italy, which took place at a high altitude outdoor rink and was therefore seen as poor preparation for the indoor, sea level rink in Sochi.
The fact that their immediate preparation contributed to the failure is also suggested by the fact the team endured better results when they returned to the World Cup circuit in the aftermath of the Games.
This was something admitted by Morris when he said the team failed to collect and analyse enough data before the Olympics to realise the skaters would not peak in Sochi.
“When you go back and look at those performance trends, our expectations going into Sochi were not realistic,” Morris said.
“The idea that we were going to go there and win eight, 10, 12 medals in long-track alone was way off.”
Although the US team overall finished in a satisfactory fourth place on the medals table in Sochi with 28 medals, of which nine were gold, the squad also disappointed in short track events, winning just a solitary silver medal in the men’s 5,000m relay.