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U.S. speed skaters still without medals in Sochi

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Marco Smits
2/14/2014 9:54:25 AM
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After a bit of a slow start at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the United States is right up there in the overall medal standings. Seven days into the competition, the U.S. began the day with four gold, two silver and six bronze medals. They are ranked fifth and have the second largest total amount of medals (12) behind Norway.

Team USA has produced medals in alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, figure skating, luge and snowboarding. The glaring omission: long track speed skating.

Coming into these Games, the U.S. was third in the all-time long track speed skating standings with 67 total medals and they lead in overall gold with 29. It's been 30 years since the U.S. didn't win at least one speed skating medal at the Olympics.

In Sochi, Americans Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson were the undisputed gold medal favourites in the women's 1,000 meters. Between the two, they won every World Cup race this season but in Russia they finished seventh and eighth. Shani Davis was expected to complete his historic three-peat in the 1000m and yet he finished eighth. No American has finished better than seventh place so far.

In a sport where races are decided by hundredths of a second, the talk in Sochi has been about the new Under Armour suits U.S. skaters are wearing. Developed in secrecy in corporation with Lockheed Martin, the Mach 39 as it is known even looks uncomfortable to the untrained eye. A ventilation panel on the back is possibly to blame for taking in air, which hinders skaters from achieving the deep squatted stands required to deliver the ultimate stride.
 
Then there is the U.S. training facility. American skaters have been preparing for Sochi in a building that hosts the 'fastest ice on the planet' in Salt Lake City. The oval is on altitude which ensures fast conditions. However, the Adler Arena in Sochi is on sea level and its properties are completely different. The ice is considered slow where skaters need to rely less on technique and finesse and more on stamina and sheer determination. 

Team Canada trains on altitude in Calgary and perhaps it is not a coincidence that Denny Morrison's memorable silver moment is the only Canadian medal in Sochi so far.

Time is running out for the U.S. long track team - and for Canada's - with only six medal events left at these Games. Both countries have slim medal hopes in the men's 10,000m and the women's 5,000m. The 1,500m - often considered the crown jewel of long track - is wide open but other than that, medaling at the team pursuit is needed to prevent historic lows.

Shani Davis (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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