Team USA disappoints in Sochi
SOCHI, Russia -- As far as the 2014 Olympics went, Americans were very good at going downhill fast. It was skating horizontally that was a problem -- regardless of what the athletes wore.
The U.S. was expected to win as many as eight medals in long track. Instead, it won zero, the team's worst showing in 30 years. It won just one medal in short track.
When a reporter referred to this Olympics as the low point for U.S. speedskating, 2006 and 2010 gold medalist Shani Davis said, "That's an understatement. We came in here being one of the most decorated disciplines in the Winter Olympics, and we come away with zero medals. It's horrible."
Was it the Under Armour skinsuits that were supposed to significantly lower times? The decision to hold the team's pre-Olympics training at altitude rather than on slower ice at sea level? Bad tapering? Dysfunction inside U.S. speedskating? All those might be contributing factors, but even together they don't adequately explain how athletes who won so many races on the World Cup circuit could all suddenly fail so badly here.
Davis said he has a few ideas of what went wrong but did not reveal them. He did say a program overhaul is necessary.
"We have to destroy and rebuild," he said. "We have to start at ground zero and build up again if we're going to continue onto 2018."
Skiing horizontally also was an issue. Cross-country is a great sport enjoyed by many Americans but is still not mainstream. Kikkan Randall was determined to change that. She not only was favored to win America's first cross-country medal since 1976 but also could put cross-country on the national radar. Instead, the world sprint champion failed to reach the semifinals in the women's sprint, and the U.S. struggled in the other cross-country events as well.
"It's rough. But that's sport, right?" Randall said of her disappointing sprint race. "You prepare your whole life for something like this, and it's over in two and a half minutes."
And then there was hockey.
The U.S. men had a stirring moment in their game against Russia when T.J. Oshie turned himself into a household name by scoring in a shootout to beat America's former rival. That didn't have the magic of the 1980 Miracle on Ice, though. The 1980 game was a different era, when we sent our amateurs to the Olympics, not millionaire NHL players who are teammates of the Russians much of the year.
Additionally, not only was there no gold medal, there was no medal at all, thanks to losses to Canada and Finland.
At least the men have the NHL to go back to. There is no NHL for the women. Their one focus and goal is the Olympic gold medal. Due to the lack of world competition, it was a foregone conclusion the U.S. would play Canada in the gold-medal game, just as in every Olympics. And just as usual in the Olympics, Canada won, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to win 3-2 in overtime. That nearly felt like sudden death for the Americans.
As Jocelyne Lamoureux, said, their gold-medal chance "only comes around once every four years. It just sucks."
Figure skating went better. The U.S. did about as expected, with world champs Meryl Davis and Charlie White winning gold in ice dance and leading the U.S. to a bronze in the new team event that was a great addition to the sport.
"Most of the feedback from the kids was that they really liked it," veteran coach Frank Carroll said. "There's a camaraderie about it that maybe didn't exist before. Our sport is so individualistic; it's all about me, me, me. If you don't do so well, maybe one of your teammates will bring it up. I think it's good for them."
Let's go up the mountains where U.S. ski and snowboard had great success -- a record-tying 17 athletes won medals -- and unbeatable demographics.
At age 36, Bode Miller became the oldest medalist in Olympic alpine history with a bronze in the super-G while, at half his age, 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest slalom gold medalist. Somewhere in between, 29-year-old Ted Ligety became just the second American skier with gold medals, winning the combined in 2006 and the giant slalom in Sochi.
Julia Mancuso added a fourth medal to her Olympic career, the most by a U.S. woman in alpine. Miller, meanwhile, won his sixth, tops for all Americans in skiing. Not that you can absolutely count him out from skiing in a sixth Olympics in 2018.
"You never know about Bode," U.S. alpine director Patrick Riml said. "I think he's very happy right now. To win a medal after missing almost a season and a half, it's very impressive what he did. I think he's fired up and very motivated. I know  is a long ways off, but let's see how he goes."
Perhaps America's best showing was in action sports, with the U.S. winning six gold medals, including a men's sweep of the new and ridiculously compelling slopestyle event. It won three of four golds in the new slopestyle and halfpipe events.
It also proved action sports are far more than just Shaun White (who failed to medal) and rock star partiers. David Wise, gold medalist in the halfpipe, is a husband and father of a 2-year-old daughter.
Finally, the U.S. did well in bobsled, winning silver and bronze in the women's competition while Steven Holcomb ended America's 62-year medal drought in the two-man race. This after he had ended a 62-year gold-medal drought in four-man at the 2010 Olympics.
"This is my second 62-year drought, which is awesome," Holcomb said. "If anyone else has a 62-year drought, just let me know and I'll try to help you."
The U.S. sent a record number of athletes to these Winter Olympics and competed in new events (women's ski jumping, the new action sports and team figure skating) but earned nine fewer medals (28) than in Vancouver in 2010 (37). So, overall, it's been a rather disappointing performance.
Oh well. At least no one got rabies from a stray dog. And who knows, perhaps the ice rinks will be tilted downhill in Pyeongchang in 2018.