SOCHI, Russia -- Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe joined the growing list of U.S. Speedskaters -- actually, all of them -- who don't seem to have a clue about what's gone wrong at the Sochi Olympics.
Speedskating has a proud tradition in America and has produced 85 medals at the Winter Games, more than any other sport.
After six races here, however, U.S. long-track skaters have failed to add a single medal to that total. Not only that, but Richardson's seventh-place finish in the women's 1,000 meters Thursday represents the top result by an American.
Hong Zhang of China won the gold medal with a time of 1 minute 14.02 seconds. Ireen Wust and Margot Boer gave the Netherlands its 11th and 12th long-track medals of these Games by winning silver and bronze in 1:14.69 and 1:14.90, respectively.
Richardson, of High Point, N.C., finished more than 1 second behind Zhang in 1:15.23.
Brittany Bowe, of Ocala, Fla., finished one spot behind Richardson in eighth in 1:15.62.
Richardson and Bowe went into the Olympics ranked first and second in the world following a dominant World Cup season, which makes their performances even more perplexing.
"We didn't expect this coming in," said U.S. sprint coach Ryan Shimabukuro. "Always at the Olympics the competition is fierce but when you're No. 1 and 2 coming into the world and you finish seventh and eighth. . . . .
"Absolutely, I'm disappointed. I'm upset. But I'm proud of the girls because they gave everything they had. It's frustrating, to say the least."
Richardson did her best to put her performance in perspective.
"My time was almost a second faster than last season here in Sochi, so there's not too much I can complain about," she said. "I was (No. 1) going into the race but I gave it my best and that's all I can do."
Bowe, who set the world record in the 1,000 at a World Cup in Salt Lake City in November (1:12.58), got off to a fast start but like so many U.S. skaters here she faded down the stretch.
"I thought I was on a really good one," she said. "I had a fast opener for me. I had a really solid first lap. I was trying to hang in there on the last lap but I think I lost quite a bit of time.
"When I looked up at the board I thought it was going to be a faster time."
Neither Richardson nor Bowe could come up with a reason for their disappointing performances. Both said they felt fine physically, warmed up well and were confident going to the line.
"I had my normal race routine, race prep, off-ice warm-up and I felt really good going into the race," Bowe said. "I thought I was on a great one and just didn't go fast enough.
"Honestly, before I got to the line, seeing those fast times really pumped me up. I was on a killer one the first 600 to 800 meters and just kind of locked up."
Sugar Todd of Wauwatosa finished 32nd in 1:19.13, and Kelly Gunther of Lorain, Ohio, finished 33rd in 1:19.43.
"Not happy with that one," Todd said. "But you can't have awesome races all the time. Technically, I didn't skate very well and that was something I was conscious of and could feel during my race. It happens."
Like Shani Davis, who finished eighth in the men's 1,000 after winning gold in the two previous Winter Games, Richardson and Bowe will have to regroup for the 1,500. The men's 1,500 is Saturday, and the women's is Sunday.
If they don't win medals in those races, the Americans could very well come away from Sochi with no medals in long-track speedskating.
"I have no pressure going into the 1,500 so I'm just going to go out and skate and have fun," Richardson said.
Bowe said planned to "take a step back" from skating Friday and show her parents and sister around the athletes' village.
"I'm going to enjoy my time with my family in the village, have a nice dinner with them and then regroup from there," she said. "It's unfortunate I didn't get the result I wanted today but you look at the bigger picture. It's my first Olympics and I couldn't be more happy than being with my family and representing everybody back home.
"It's just been an awesome experience."
Everywhere, that is, but on the ice.
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