The U.S. speedskating team has been so ineffective in the Winter Olympics that it seems as if something nefarious or unexpected must be at fault. After arriving in Sochi with hopes of several medals and big performances from high-profile skaters, the team saw no individual skater finish in sight of the podium with only two relay races left in competition. In the place of stories about these hoped-for triumphs, we've been treated to complaints about faulty new suits and reports inside their debacle of a rollout.
[Photos: Meet Team USA speedskater Brittany Bowe]
This giant mess only looks to get worse. After the women's 5,000 meters, the last individual speedskating race in Sochi, last-place finisher Maria Lamb unloaded on U.S. speedskating's lack of support for her and her teammates. From Chip Scoggins for The Minneapolis Star Tribune:
“I think over the last several years most of us have managed to perform incredibly well in spite of a lot of the organization rather than because of it,” she said. “That adds up over the years and unfortunately it came to a head here. This is my third Games and there is so much more nonsense in general going on.” [...]
“I know that we’re all capable of so much more than the Games have shown,” she said. “It’s tough to watch us be defeated not so much by the fact that [we’re] not capable of more, but by some of the leadership in the organization. It’s really heartbreaking to me.”
Lamb saved her harshest criticism for former executive director Mark Greenwald and Finn Halvorsen, long track performance director.
“The organization could have done a lot of things differently,” Lamb said. “I couldn’t possibly get into all of that. If you want to point fingers, Mark Greenwald caused a lot of damage to the organization by treating people wrong or just outright pushing them out. We lost a lot of really good staff and have had to deal with a lot of controversy. That definitely affects you. Finn Halverson has done a lot of damage the way he has single-handedly perhaps destroyed so many good athletes, at least their performance here at the Games, due to a lot of his calls and actions, is fairly remarkable actually.” [...]
“The biggest thing that has affected me the last couple weeks is the atmosphere we’ve been living in and, cumulatively, the entire mentality and attitude of people after people having races that are nothing close to what they’re capable of,” she said. “The negativity grows and affects you a lot. You try to block that out, you try to forget it, but at the end of the day most of us haven’t been able to overcome that.” [...]
“I’ve always skated because I love it,” she said. “There’s a lot of good people in the organization. Unfortunately, I feel like they haven’t been able to overcome some of the people at the top, the leadership that’s really just systematically not listened to athletes. Just disregarded us and our opinions and they haven’t necessarily supported individual needs well.
All together now: "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!"
Greenwald and Halvorsen have yet to respond to the charges of skating malpractice, and while Lamb's opinions might represent the extreme of skaters' reaction to this situation, they're in keeping with some of the takeaways from the Associated Press report on the testing process for the now-reviled suits. In that piece, it seemed as if speedskating officials either didn't listen to concerns from their athletes or did not create an environment in which they felt comfortable criticizing the suits. Lamb describes a similar culture, even if the specifics remain hazy. Her comments were likely influenced by the immediate disappointment of her result, but chances are that there's some proof in there.
The question now becomes whether any other skaters will echo her sentiments. These terrible results would likely compel a leadership change regardless, but further complaints like these would seem to require more sweeping reform. Whatever the case, it seems like this story isn't going to end when the speedskaters leave the Olympic Village.
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