The United States placed third in the team’s speed skating endeavors on Tuesday, taking home its second U.S. medal in speed skating for this Olympics. The American men are world record holders in the team’s pursuit and were favorites to win the event, making the third-place finish equal in success and disappointment.
Russian Olympic Committee
United States of America
The American team of Joey Mantia, Casey Dawson and Emery Lehmann defeated the Netherlands in the Group B final – effectively a bronze medal race – by nearly three seconds. Norway won the gold medal for the second time in a row, defeating Russia in the final.
But the unexpected decision could cost the United States an opportunity to compete with Norway in the final. Mantia, the most successful American skater, did not skate in the semifinals against a team from Russia, with Ethan Seaburan instead being chosen by the team to compete with Dawson and Lehman.
Dawson, Lehmann and Siburan skated well, leading in the middle of the race – their time of 3 minutes 37.05 seconds was faster than the Olympic record (and faster than the Americans who skated with Mantia in Final B). But the Russians skated in a better race, winning by about half a second.
Both Siburan and Mantia said they were a little disappointed with the semi-final loss. “How unlucky are you that Russia is four seconds faster in the semi-final than in the final?” Mantia said. “The sweat of their lives. You can’t really be sad about it. It’s just kind of luck.”
The team said the plan was always for Mantilla to not skate in the quarter-finals. Before the semi-finals the skaters sat down and talked candidly about how they all felt, and that conversation resulted in Cepuran skating in the semi-finals instead of Mantia. After the semi-finals, Cepuran was more tired than Dawson, Those who made it to the Olympics late And he was fresher, and so he stepped aside for Mantia.
In the men’s team chase, three team members skate in a single file just inches apart for eight laps, counting the time of the last skater to cross the finish line. Usually every lap or two, the front skater, doing the hard work of setting the pace while others slither downstream, flakes backwards and lets a new teammate ride and suffer.
As a group of individuals, skaters in the United States are less accomplished than most of their opponents. None of them had ever won an Olympic medal, for example, and besides Mantia, none of them came particularly close. Their competitors in the bronze medal race were led by the Dutch, nine-time Olympic medalist Sven Kramer and four-time medalist Patrick Rust.
But the United States has prioritized chasing the team over the past four years with a Bold and innovative strategy That turned how the race is run on its head. Instead of swapping out who skates up front, the U.S. has one member leading the entire race, while his teammates use their saved energy to physically propel each other forward. The strategy worked: the Americans broke the world record in Salt Lake City in December, and the Norwegians, who won gold on Tuesday, freely admitted to copying it.
The bronze medal is a first for all US skaters, and came in the third, and possibly final, Olympics in Mantia, aged 36. Last week he appeared to quit retirement without winning an Olympic medal after finishing sixth in the 1500m.
“It’s heartbreaking, you know,” Mantia said at the time. “I really thought this was my chance.”
It was hard to be so disappointed, then after winning a medal at the end. “I feel like the weight has been lifted somewhat,” Mantia said. “I am an Olympic medalist.”
In the pursuit of the women’s team, favorites Canadians defeated the Japanese and set a new Olympic record. The Japanese led the whole race, but on the final bend Nana Takagi suddenly lost her balance and fell, handing the gold medal to the Canadians. The Netherlands defeated Russia and won the bronze medal.
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