What’s next for U.S. speed skating

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SOCHI, Russia – One is retiring. Another is getting married. A third is going to Puerto Vallerta.

The U.S. speed skating team must move on after a disastrous Olympics, its third ever without a medal. It finished with sixth- and seventh-place results in the eight-nation team pursuits at Adler Arena on Saturday.

The slow times, the suits and the Dutch dominance won’t soon be forgotten.

The controversial mid-Games switch from the new Under Armour Mach 39 suits, billed as the world’s fastest, back to their successful suits from the World Cup season didn’t affect results.

After the first poor races, they were desperately seeking answers. It was the only thing they could think of, one skater said.

“Things were going wrong for everybody,” said Joey Mantia, a World Cup race winner this season who finished 15th and 22nd in the 1000m and 1500m. “We took a step back. We said, what can we change? We all have something in common, and we don’t know what it is that’s making us skate bad was kind of our thought process coming out of the first couple days of racing. We said, well, we can’t change how we train, we can’t change where we were geographically because we already did that [training at altitude before the Olympics in Collalbo, Italy]. We can’t really change our skates.

“The only thing we can change is the suit. When things are going wrong, you don’t stay on the same path. You try to at least change something, see what it is. I don’t think it was definitive whether it was the suit or not. There was no way to tell, but we had to at least try.”

Details run much deeper than the suit, to training methods and the US Speedskating organization, as reported in this Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story.

Under Armour will join US Speedskating in trying to reverse a downward spiral that’s seen the medal tally drop from eight in 2002 to seven in 2006 to four in 2010 to zero. They extended their partnership through 2022.

That’s great, but what really matters is the talent zipping up those synthetic fabrics. Everyone will remember the Olympics, but a poor two weeks in Sochi doesn’t erase a fantastic month of World Cup racing in the fall.

Quickly, U.S. Olympians will get a chance to show they are still fast. The season picks up again with two World Cups in March followed by the World Allround Championships, all in Europe.

Here’s what’s next for the top U.S. skaters:

  • Shani Davis (31) – Unsure if he will try for 2018, citing a need for reevaluation.
  • Brian Hansen (23) – May take next season off but could see himself back for 2018.
  • Joey Mantia (28) – Definitely trying for 2018.
  • Jonathan Kuck (23) – Retiring after the Olympics.
  • Emery Lehman (17) – Plans to skate at World Junior Championships in Norway in March.
  • Heather Richardson (24) – Will keep skating rest of this season, next season and, hopefully, in 2018. Also marrying Dutch Olympic champion Jorrit Bergsma next year.
  • Brittany Bowe (25) – Same as Richardson, except for the wedding.
  • Jilleanne Rookard (31) – Done skating this season. May skip next season with an eye on 2014-15. Will vacation with the U.S. women’s hockey team in Puerto Vallerta, Mexico, in April.

Davis, the only individual Olympic medalist in the bunch, will be 35 come the Pyeongchang Olympics. It’s not unheard for somebody that old to contend for Olympic medals.

The Netherlands’ Bob de Jong, 37, won bronze in the 10,000m here.

But Davis must deal with assembly-line like Dutch depth in the middle distances as well as younger competition from nations such as Kazakhstan and Poland.

Hansen, too, is a middle-distance skater. He’s in the midst of his best World Cup season ever, and, at eight years younger than Davis, may not have peaked yet.

Mantia is in his third year of speed skating after a decorated inline career. Lehman, a high school student, knocked seven seconds off his personal best in the 10,000m at the Olympic Trials.

They, too, could still be rising.

Bowe and Richardson are still two of the best sprinters in the world and at similar ages as their biggest competition from Europe and Asia.

Rookard considered quitting last season. The U.S. will hope a younger athlete can come along and help carry the distance load.

That skater might not come though.

Lehman was the only American to finish in the top seven of any race at the World Junior Championships either of the last two years.

The current crop of Olympians reflected on Sochi after the team pursuit — the preparations, the distractions, the disappointments.

“Obviously the past couple weeks haven’t gone exactly how we wanted them to, but I think we learned a lot about ourselves, and we’ve stuck together through the entire few weeks,” Bowe said. “I think that says a lot about our team. Through thick and thin, we’re going to stand together.”