A number of issues contributed to U.S. speed skaters’ poor results in Sochi, including pre-Olympic travel, the new skin suit and a new skate sharpening system, the US Speedskating executive director told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Certainly, there’s no silver bullet,” US Speedskating executive director Ted Morris told the newspaper. “There were several factors that led to our lack of performance in Sochi. The good news is that in identifying them we can put together a really good plan for Korea [2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang].”
U.S. speed skaters were expected to rack up medals in Sochi, led by Olympic and world medalists Shani Davis and Heather Richardson. Americans won zero medals with a top individual finish of seventh place.
The U.S. has historically won more medals in speed skating than any other Winter Olympic sport and finished off the podium altogether for the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games.
Immediate blame was placed on an Under Armour racing suit billed as the fastest in the world, different from the suits that U.S. skaters wore during a successful World Cup season leading into the Olympics. Skaters reverted to the old suits during the Olympics, but results didn’t get any better.
A new skate sharpening system was also introduced, but that did not receive nearly the same attention.
“That backfired on us, without a doubt,” Morris told the newspaper. “Our athletes did not feel comfortable with the suits or the polish.
“Obviously, as we plan for the future if we have ‘secret weapons’ we want our athletes competing in them before the Olympics.”
Also scrutinized was the decision to hold a pre-Olympic training camp in Collalbo, Italy, outdoors and up in the mountains. The Sochi Olympic speed skating venue was indoors and near sea level.
“Collalbo probably was not the right place to go based on the weather conditions,” Morris told the newspaper. “It was helpful for us from a team-building aspect. … But with the cold weather and the fluctuation in the ice conditions it was not the ideal place to be able to peak from an on-ice standpoint.”
US Speedskating, the U.S. Olympic Committee and outside experts spent weeks since Sochi dissecting what went wrong. A report is expected to be finalized within a few days, Morris told the newspaper.
“It became fairly clear that a majority of our athletes for whatever reasons just did not peak at the Olympics,” Morris said. “We saw that in testing of their physical strength, including at the Olympics, and we saw it from a performance standpoint on the ice.”
Travel might have been too excessive. Not only did the team gather in Collalbo, but some skaters also traveled to Japan for the World Sprint Championships in January and the team also went to Munich for U.S. Olympic Team processing just before the Games.
U.S. skaters won a combined 11 medals at two World Cup stops after the Olympics to close the 2013-14 season.
The four-time Olympic medalist Davis will be 35 years old come 2018. The top U.S. women, Richardson and Brittany Bowe, will be 28 and 29.