SOCHI, Russia — The prospect of a medal shutout at the Olympic speedskating oval for the first time since 1984 grew more real for the U.S. on Sunday, as no American women managed to come near the podium in the 1,500 meters.
Heather Richardson had the best showing in Sunday’s race, skating her second-best time at sea level in 1 minute, 57.60 seconds to wind up seventh. Brittany Bowe ended up 14th and Jilleanne Rookard was 18th.
Meanwhile, the Dutch swept the medals in an event for the third time at Adler Arena, giving the skating-crazed nation 16 of 24 long-track speedskating medals so far at the Sochi Games.
As did the men a day earlier, the U.S. women switched back to the skinsuits they wore during the World Cup season, ditching the new Mach 39 suits that were touted as the fastest in the world when the team received them on Jan. 1. Both versions are made by Under Armour.
“I think you guys are making more of a deal on the skinsuits than we are,” said U.S. coach Ryan Shimabukro. “The athletes have to go and compete no matter what. The suits that they raced in today, that’s the suit Brittany broke the world record in, that’s the suit that Heather won three out of the four World Cups this year.”
Shani Davis said the skaters “absolutely” should have gotten the new suits before Jan. 1 so they could have tried them out in competition. The four-time Olympic medalist from Chicago finished eighth in the 1,000 and 11th in the 1,500, his two best events.
Shimabukro acknowledged the delivery of the suits so close to the Olympics was “probably one of the things that we’re going to look at after the season’s over.”
Bowe downplayed the suit controversy.
“The coaching staff and Under Armour have put in a lot of hours trying to figure out what to do,” she said. “Nobody knows what it is. It could be this, it could be that. That’s just one factor to try to eliminate and you saw the results today. We gave it our best shot.”
Bowe, of Ocala, Fla., had no interest in comparing how she felt wearing the old suit and the new suit.
“I’m not the brains behind the construction of the skinsuits,” she said. “I just put on what I’m given.”
Tension has clearly been running high in the U.S. camp, with some of the skaters carefully choosing their words when talking about the suits.
On Saturday, media were limited to five questions about the suits. On Sunday, Bowe was hustled away from U.S. reporters after a few minutes. That led to a surreal scene in the mixed zone at the oval, with reporters accusing the team’s spokeswoman of cutting Bowe off.
Even before the suit debacle, the U.S. had little chance of contending for medals in the last two individual events: the men’s 10,000 and women’s 5,000.
With no American finishing higher than seventh so far, it’s hard to see how the U.S. could put together a medal contender in either the men’s or women’s team pursuit, either.
The U.S. has been shut out in Olympic speedskating twice, most recently in 1984.