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US speedskaters off to slow start at Olympic oval

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February 12, 2014 | Leave Comment

SOCHI, Russia — The U.S. speedskating team is off to a slow start at the Sochi Olympics.

Through the first three days at the big oval, the Americans have yet to reach the medals podium.

Their best finish so far was 10th in the 3,000 meters by Jilleanne Rookard on Sunday. Emery Lehman, a 17-year-old competing in his first games, had the highest finish on the men’s side, placing 16th in the 5,000 last Saturday.

The men got blanked in the 500 meters on Monday. Shani Davis of Chicago used the two races as a training run and still came away with the best U.S. finish, 24th in 1 minute, 10.98 seconds. Three-time Olympian Tucker Fredricks of Janesville, Wis., was 26th with a time of 1:10.99 in his final games before retiring. Mitch Whitmore of Waukesha, Wis., was 27th in 1:11.06.

Like Davis, Brian Hansen of Glenview, Ill., skated in the first 500, turning 1 ¼ laps in 35.64 seconds as a training run before dropping out of the second race.

“I think we’re a bit down, but we’re always optimistic,” Davis said. “It can turn just like the weather; some days it’s cloudy, some days it’s sunny. Hopefully, we have more sunny days than rainy days.”

Things should start looking up on Tuesday, when good friends Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe compete in the women’s 500. Richardson is a medal contender, while Bowe’s better events are the 1,000 and 1,500.

The Americans’ best chance for gold comes Wednesday, when Davis competes in the 1,000, trying to become the first male speedskater to win the same event in three straight Olympics.

“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I took a lot away from the race and I’m looking forward to Wednesday.”

Whitmore raced against Davis in his second 500, not the ideal pairing because Davis isn’t a sprinter and has a slower start.

“It’s heartbreaking not to be up there, but I can take good things away from this competition for the next four years,” Whitmore said. “I just wasn’t feeling quite as good leading up to this. I got a little sickness when we first got here.”

Fredricks’ best Olympic finish in the 500 was 12th in Vancouver four years ago. He won just one race during the recent World Cup season after holding the world record from 2005-07.

Fredricks said he had a rough time preparing on Sunday, but felt good going into Monday’s first race.

“Got off the line good and then I honestly don’t know what happened,” he said. “I felt faster than what the time showed. The second race I was just tired. I had nothing in the tank. I’m kind of sad about that second one.”

The Olympics are over for Fredricks and Whitmore, who both qualified only for the sprint event. At 29, Fredricks looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Eriko Seo, a two-time Japanese Olympian.

“I’ve been in this thing for 20 years and it’s been great, but I think it’s time to move on and do something new,” he said. “I’ll probably cry when I get to the locker room, not because I’m sad about my races but just because it’s kind of done, I guess.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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