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Olympics / Sports

Review confirms suspected reasons for Olympic speedskating collapse

US Speedskating officials conducted an internal review of the disastrous Sochi Olympic performance, and they plan to bounce back in four years.

Executive Director Ted Morris said the assessment confirmed suspicions why U.S. long-track skaters failed to win an Olympic medal for the first time in three decades: too much travel leading up to the Games; training outdoors in the cold, windy Italian Alps; and introducing methods to the skaters just before the Games, including a new high-tech racing suit.

"It's been a tough couple of months but a really healthy couple of months," said Morris, who joined the federation in September. "Collectively we're looking forward to rewriting the script in 2018."

The U.S. skaters entered the Games on the heels of one of their best World Cup seasons with expectations of as many as 12 medals. But when they fell short -- including four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis and Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe, the world's top-ranked women -- US Speedskating was left searching for answers. Morris said the U.S. expectations were "unrealistic."

A leading suspect was the racing suit Under Armour gave to the skaters just before the Games. Midway through the races, skaters swapped them out, but it made no difference. The best long-track finish was sixth place.

Morris said the problem wasn't the technology; rather, the skaters should have received the suit sooner. Under Armour has since doubled down on its investment, renewing the sponsorship through 2022. Morris said any new equipment will be given when seasons begin.

Morris also said a review of data showed the skaters weren't going to peak in Sochi and the federation must improve its analysis of training programs. He said that includes minimizing travel before the Olympics; some skaters went from Nagano, Japan, to Munich to the pre-Olympic camp in Collabo, Italy, before reaching Russia.

"They started traveling almost a full month before (the opening ceremony) without returning home," Morris said. "That clearly had an impact."

He said the review -- which will not be made public -- showed coaches should not have held a camp in high-altitude Collabo, where it was cold and windy. The Sochi races took place indoors at sea level.

The review appears to vindicate the blistering criticism of US Speedskating by four-time Olympian Nancy Swider-Peltz, the private coach of Brian Hansen who opposed requiring Hansen to train in Collabo.

"I'm a thinking person, and it was a poor calculation," Swider-Peltz said. "Vindicated, yeah, but come on, people. It was obvious."

The national racing program in Salt Lake City is undergoing its own changes. Finn Halvorsen left as long-track high-performance director, as did coach Kip Carpenter. Morris said neither was fired. Head coach Ryan Shimabukuro's contract expired, although he might return.

Short-track coach Stephen Gough, who joined in October 2012 after a skate-tampering scandal saw the exit of Jae Su Chun, declined to return. Guy Thibault, who began his third stint with the U.S. team in December 2012, now is overseeing both the short-track and long-track programs.

The national program will not include Olympian Emery Lehman, 17, a rising. He will continue to train in Milwaukee with Jeff Klaiber and attend Marquette University next year.

"Jeff and Emery get along really well," Lehman's mother, Marcia, said. "We saw no reason to change anything."

Hansen, a two-time Olympian who won a silver medal in 2010 and also trained in Milwaukee, will not compete next season. He will attend the University of Colorado, where he hopes to compete for the skiing and cycling teams. He will consult with Swider-Peltz and focus on dry-land training.

"This will be different for me," Hansen said. "My goal, if I decide to do 2018, is to stay in shape."

Morris said he expects Bowe to return to the national program, but Richardson will move to the Netherlands with her fiance, Dutch skater Jorrit Bergsma, and skate there professionally.

"A skater has an opportunity to earn guaranteed money on top of prize money. We respect that," Morris said.

Davis declined to comment through a spokesman, but he has trained on his own for years. Olympian Joey Mantia said last week he is "90 percent" committed to returning to Salt Lake City.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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