Team USA disappoints in Sochi

Emily Scott

SOCHI, Russia -- As far as the 2014 Olympics went, Americans were very good at going downhill fast. It was skating horizontally that was a problem -- regardless of what the athletes wore.

The U.S. was expected to win as many as eight medals in long track. Instead, it won zero, the team's worst showing in 30 years. It won just one medal in short track.

When a reporter referred to this Olympics as the low point for U.S. speedskating, 2006 and 2010 gold medalist Shani Davis said, "That's an understatement. We came in here being one of the most decorated disciplines in the Winter Olympics, and we come away with zero medals. It's horrible."

Was it the Under Armour skinsuits that were supposed to significantly lower times? The decision to hold the team's pre-Olympics training at altitude rather than on slower ice at sea level? Bad tapering? Dysfunction inside U.S. speedskating? All those might be contributing factors, but even together they don't adequately explain how athletes who won so many races on the World Cup circuit could all suddenly fail so badly here.

Davis said he has a few ideas of what went wrong but did not reveal them. He did say a program overhaul is necessary.

"We have to destroy and rebuild," he said. "We have to start at ground zero and build up again if we're going to continue onto 2018."

Skiing horizontally also was an issue. Cross-country is a great sport enjoyed by many Americans but is still not mainstream. Kikkan Randall was determined to change that. She not only was favored to win America's first cross-country medal since 1976 but also could put cross-country on the national radar. Instead, the world sprint champion failed to reach the semifinals in the women's sprint, and the U.S. struggled in the other cross-country events as well.

"It's rough. But that's sport, right?" Randall said of her disappointing sprint race. "You prepare your whole life for something like this, and it's over in two and a half minutes."

And then there was hockey.

The U.S. men had a stirring moment in their game against Russia when T.J. Oshie turned himself into a household name by scoring in a shootout to beat America's former rival. That didn't have the magic of the 1980 Miracle on Ice, though. The 1980 game was a different era, when we sent our amateurs to the Olympics, not millionaire NHL players who are teammates of the Russians much of the year.

Additionally, not only was there no gold medal, there was no medal at all, thanks to losses to Canada and Finland.

At least the men have the NHL to go back to. There is no NHL for the women. Their one focus and goal is the Olympic gold medal. Due to the lack of world competition, it was a foregone conclusion the U.S. would play Canada in the gold-medal game, just as in every Olympics. And just as usual in the Olympics, Canada won, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to win 3-2 in overtime. That nearly felt like sudden death for the Americans.

As Jocelyne Lamoureux, said, their gold-medal chance "only comes around once every four years. It just sucks."

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