GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb 13 (Reuters) - With four races gone and zero Olympic medals in the bag, the U.S. speed skaters are already well off the pace set by their Dutch counterparts in South Korea.
The Netherlands, in contrast, has struck gold in all four events so far at the Gangneung Oval, including a clean sweep of the podium in the women’s 3,000 metres, and won eight of the 12 available medals.
At the Sochi Olympics four years ago, the U.S. did not win a single long-track speed skating medal, and the pressure to avoid a repeat in South Korea is already mounting.
U.S. skater Joey Mantia spoke of inconsistency after finishing eighth in the men’s 1,500m on Tuesday as the Dutch took the top two places on the podium.
The two other Americans in the race, Brian Hansen and Shani Davis, finished 15th and 19th respectively.
“I’ve been probably the most inconsistent skater on the planet, as far as high highs and low lows,” Mantia told reporters. “I always hope for the best when I go out for the race and it’s there or it’s not.”
Mantia will also skate in the 1,000m and team pursuit, but his best bet of helping the U.S. end its medal drought is in the mass start, which will be the final race held at the Oval.
“I’ve got three more races,” he said. “I’m going to turn it around.”
Reigning women’s world champion Heather Bergsma had a similarly poor outing on Monday, finishing eighth in the 1,500m, a race in which she was one of the favourites to medal.
Brittany Bowe’s fifth-place in that race is the best finish so far, and she is hoping to win the country’s first Olympic speed skating medal in eight years when she lines up for Wednesday’s 1,000m.
However, Bowe finished behind gold medallist Ireen Wust in the 1,500m, as well as bronze medallist Marrit Leenstra, who are both from the Netherlands, while Japanese skater Miho Takagi took silver.
All three will race against her on Wednesday.
With world record holder Nao Kodaira also in the mix, the U.S. might well have a longer wait for that elusive first medal.
After their dismal performance in Sochi, the team overhauled it’s approach, changing training programmes and equipment, including their aerodynamic skin suits, to avoid history repeating itself.
So far, things have not gone to plan.
Bowe revealed before the Games that the U.S. is targeting five speed skating medals in Korea. However, such is the display of Dutch strength in the early days at the Oval, that the first one needs to come soon. (Editing by Christian Radnedge)