Sochi 2014: Speed skating review: Dutch relegate US from first to last
Sochi 2014: US suffer ignominy of not picking up a single Games medal for first time in 30 years as flying Dutch batter all opposition
“Worst … Olympics … EVER,” said US two-time gold medallist Shani Davis as the curtain was brought down on the 2014 Winter Games.
He was not wrong. The United States arrived in Sochi as the leading nation in speed skating and with high hopes of getting among the podium places.
However, within just two weeks that reputation was shattered as they failed to pick up a single speed skating medal at a Winter Olympics for the first time in 30 years (Sarajevo 1984).
We came in being one of the most decorated [skating teams] in the Winter Olympics and we come away with zero medals. It’s horrible.
The United States brought 17 skaters with them to Sochi in the anticipation of replicating their record-breaking success at Salt Lake City in 2002, yet the highest position they achieved was a sixth-place finish in the women’s team pursuit.
Fingers were pointed towards the hi-tech suits designed by Under Armour but US disappointment continued when they were disposed of halfway through the competition – in a move that reflected the nation’s sheer desperation.
“I think the best thing would have been to have made sure that these suits were what the people said they were so that we can actually know going into the races, instead of finding out on one of the biggest races of our lives,” added Davis, who finished a shock eighth and 11th in his two preferred disciplines.
Instead, it was the Netherlands who took the Sochi ice by storm, winning 23 of the 36 speed skating medals.
It is not the Netherlands’ fault. We are not good enough
Norway national coach Jarle Pedersen
Four clean sweeps, five Olympic records and eight gold medals made up the Dutch legacy as they smashed the record for the most medals won by one nation in one sport at a Winter Olympics.
“We didn’t have to do our utmost,” said Jorien ter Mors, part of the team who eased to gold in the women’s pursuit. “We just had to make sure we didn’t fall.”
The margin of their success is so unprecedented on the world stage that it has prompted uncertainty about the future of speed skating.
“Somebody is sleeping, is not working enough,” said International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta, who has urged an investigation into the lack of competition.
“It is not the Netherlands’ fault. We are not good enough,” added Norway national coach Jarle Pedersen. “Their second best skaters are probably better than most on the national teams of other countries.”
The Dutch domination unsurprisingly triggered animosity, with some nations cheering others’ triumphs if it meant a halt to the spate of Oranje success.
“It’s nice that the Dutch didn’t go home with a gold medal,” said Germany’s Claudia Pechstein after finishing fifth behind Martina Sablikova in the 5,000m event.
Even Dutch team manager Arie Koops seemed disenchanted of their achievements as nations begin the long preparations for Pyeongchang in 2018.
“I can only hope the other countries bounce back and will be at their best again in four years,” he said.