After the American women got off to a slow start in long-track speedskating at the 2014 Winter Olympics, the pressure was squarely on Heather Richardson to get things going. Unfortunately, the Team USA drought continued on Thursday as she failed to capture a medal in the 1,000-meter race in Sochi.
Richardson finished seventh, according to Sochi's official site, with a time of 1 minute, 15.23 seconds, 1.21 seconds back of the eventual winner.
Chinese racer Hong Zhang took the gold, while Dutch skaters Ireen Wust and Margot Boer took home the silver and bronze, respectively.
With three World Cup victories in the 1,000 this season, it is unquestionably Richardson's best event, and she was expected to be a major factor. Such lofty expectations have been known to adversely affect athletes in the past, and that may very well have been the case with Richardson.
The 24-year-old native of High Point, N.C., was viewed as one of the biggest potential Team USA stars heading into Sochi. With so many disappointing performances from similar American athletes prior to the 1,000-meter event, a strong showing from Richardson would have improved morale among American fans.
Instead, as Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports points out, it continues Team USA's struggles, despite its success coming into the games:
Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe medaled in all 4 World Cup 1000ms this season so far. Neither medals in Olympic 1000m. Drought extends.— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) February 13, 2014
Richardson appeared to be in ideal position to reach the podium in the 1,000-meter race, but her failure to do so only served to accentuate her eighth-place finish in the 500-meter competition. The 500 isn't Richardson's best race, but she has had some success at the shorter distance in the past, and she was tabbed as a potential medal contender.
While Richardson's time of 75.75 seconds would have been good for an Olympic medal in the past, the field was so speedy that she finished eighth. She hoped for a better result but was undeterred, according to Julia Bagg of NBC 6:
Richardson smartly considered the 500-meter race a tune-up and a learning experience leading up to the 1,000, per Jeff Mills of the News & Record:
It's a good warm-up for the 1,000. I just want to go into it as calm as possible, just think of it as another 1,000 to do. ... Obviously, my snap is there. I mean, 10.4 (seconds) is the fastest opener I've done all season. I did that in the first one, so I know my start is exactly where it needs to be.
Richardson's confidence seemed to be intact despite the eighth-place finish, but it didn't manifest itself in the 1,000. Getting a race under her belt should have helped her ease in to the 1,000-meter race, but perhaps the disappointing placement in the 500 served as a deterrent instead.
There is no time for Richardson to dwell on the 1,000, however, as she still has two races remaining on her Olympic slate, meaning she still has a chance to salvage these Games. The 1,500-meter race is on Sunday, and having placed third in that event once during the recent current World Cup season, a medal is within reach.
Richardson also figures to take part in the women's team pursuit, and due to the strength and depth of the United States, she could potentially nab a medal in that event as well. A two-medal performance is very much within Richardson's grasp in Sochi, and that would erase much of the disappointment surrounding her first two races.
Doing so is far from a certainty, though. The competition has arguably never been tougher at the Olympic level. Richardson hasn't looked to be in terrible form by any means, but many of her opponents have been absolutely incredible.
Richardson's best event is now in the rear-view mirror and she has no medal to show for it, but the hunger to reach the podium must still be present, which makes Richardson a threat moving forward.
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