SOCHI, Russia – Canada’s men’s pursuit speedskating team was unable to defend the Winter Olympic title it won in Vancouver, but managed to perform the last rites on the dismal United States’ program’s chances of taking anything from Sochi.
Led by Denny Morrison, the Canadians trounced a U.S. squad containing four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis by 3.52 seconds to progress to the semifinals. Once there, the team of Morrison, Mathieu Giroux and Lucas Makowsky was unable to keep pace with a highly-rated South Korean squad, but still have the satisfaction of seeing the team from the U.S. head home without a single medal.
The men’s pursuit team was seen as the last realistic chance for the U.S. to gain anything from its disastrous campaign. Speedskating legend Dan Jansen predicted a haul of eight to 10 but they ended up with nothing but disappointment, hamstrung by inner turmoil and a ruckus over controversial racing suits that were eventually ditched.
“It was horrible,” said Davis, when asked to describe his Olympic experience.
Canada’s victory was the first race of Friday’s session. Later, in perhaps the day’s most predictable result, the U.S. women also saw their podium chances evaporate when they were trounced by the Netherlands.
They will now face Canada’s pursuit team in the ‘C’ final, effectively a shootout for fifth place. Canada’s team of Kali Christ, Christine Nesbitt and Brittany Schussler could not match Russia in the first quarter-final, finishing 0.53 behind the host nation.
The men’s team will now take on Poland, led by 1,500-metre champion Zbigniew Brodka, for the bronze medal, as Morrison looks to add to his impressive haul from Sochi. The 28-year-old has had a superb Olympics, winning silver in the 1,000 and bronze in the 1,500, to make up for his disappointment after underperforming on home ice four years ago in Vancouver.
The U.S. still has two pursuit races to go but only to sort out the minor places. The men will take on France in the ‘D’ final for seventh place. Don’t expect to see Davis again. Asked if this was his last race of the Games, he couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“I hope so,” he chuckled, unable to suppress the ironic laughter, doubled up with his hands on his knees, shaking his head. Expect teammate Joey Mantia to step in alongside Brian Hansen and Jonathan Kuck for the team’s second and final trip to the ice.
Brittany Bowe, Heather Richardson and Jilleanne Rookard turned in a decent performance but simply could not match the firepower of their Dutch opponents, who broke the Olympic record in a time of 2:58:61.
“I’m not going to lie,” said Rookard. “I was a little bummed to say the least that we were paired with the Dutch. They have just been dominating.”
The Americans ironically celebrated afterwards, as their time meant the worst position they can finish is sixth.
“We were like ‘yeah, best performance of the Olympics so far,’ ” Rookard said. “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”