What happened to the U.S. long-track speedskating team? It came to Sochi with 12 victories and 28 World Cup medals this season but endured its first Olympic medal shutout since 1984. Could it be that the competition simply knew how to peak better? The Dutch won 23 of 36 medals and eight of 12 golds. "We weren't the only nation that got smoked by the Netherlands," says Alan Ashley, the USOC's chief of sport performance, who acknowledges that the committee will work with U.S. Speedskating to study its program and examine reasons for the Sochi slump. "It's a deep dive that requires a thorough analysis."
Was it the choice to train at altitude in Salt Lake City and outdoors in Collablo, Italy, sites that bore little resemblance to the sea-level, indoor conditions in Sochi? Was the friendlier, more upbeat two-time Olympic champ Shani Davis (who finished no higher than eighth in an individual event in Sochi) better when he skated as though the world were out to get him, as he did in Turin and Vancouver? Should the team have tested those unfamiliar suits from Under Armour in competition before the Games? Was the failure some combination of all of these? Fingers are already being pointed, and with so much on the line—speedskating has traditionally been a leading source of America's Winter Olympic medals—the U.S. federation will have to defend its methods. Team member Maria Lamb said during the Games that U.S. skaters have succeeded in the past "in spite of the organization, rather than because of it."
AL TIELEMANS/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (DAVIS)
CRASHED DAVIS A favorite to medal at 1,000 and 1,500 meters, Shani (center) was eighth and 11th.