Heading into Day 6 of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Team USA had struggled in speedskating on both the men's and women's side. Thursday promised to be different with multiple Americans hoping to grace the podium.
But with the 1,000-meters competition coming to a close, the Americans are still in search of their first medal in speedskating.
Hong Zhang of China was one of the earliest skaters to race in the event, but made it count as her time held up to win the gold medal, as BBC Sport reports:
China’s Zhang Hong wins the gold medal in the women’s 1000m speed skating, with more medals for the Netherlands http://t.co/rmvjbPBlDZ— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) February 13, 2014
As BBC notes, two other Netherlands skaters, Irene Wust and Margot Boer, finished with a silver and bronze. Those medals brought the Dutch up to 12 total in the sport of speedskating alone in both the men's and women's competitions, which accounts for all of their hardware thus far.
The result came in one of the most unlikely events for Team USA, as no female had medaled in speedskating since Chris Witty won gold in the 1,000-meters and Jennifer Rodriguez took home bronze in both the 1,000- and 1,500-meter events.
Rather than finishing on the podium, two of the perceived favorites in Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe wound up well outside of contention for a medal, as Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post reports:
Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe do NOT medal in the 1,000m speed skating. 7th and 8th. #Sochi2014— Sally Jenkins (@sallyjenx) February 13, 2014
With the women completing their portion of the 1,000-meters, here is a look at the medal count and the three ladies that placed on the podium.
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Hong Zhang, China
One of the biggest surprises in the races, Zhang was a member of the first group to see the ice before the intermission. But thanks to a huge performance out of the Chinese skater, the country has its third medal and second gold of the Olympics.
While the story was yet again a somber one for the U.S. on the ice, it was an uplifting triumph for the Chinese.
In the history of the Winter Olympics, China had never won a gold medal in speedskating, as Infostrada Sports notes:
#Sochi2014 ZhangHong (CHN) won China's first Olympic gold medal in speed skating. This was China's 7th total medal in this sport.— Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaGold) February 13, 2014
Zhang's time was just fractions of a second off the world record and gives her country a big boost in the medal count.
If Zhang can keep up the same level of consistency heading into the 1,500-meter event, she could come away with yet another medal. But with the Dutch remaining strong and the Americans once again attempting to medal for the first time since 2002, Zhang will have stiff competition.
Irene Wust, Netherlands
The Dutch reached the podium in speedskating. This is by no means a surprise for anyone watching the Olympics so far, but Wust's effort was phenomenal just to reach the podium.
Wust was already a winner in the 3,000-meter and adds a silver to her gold. Following that event, she spoke about wanting to claim more medals in Sochi, according to Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo! Sports:
"Seventeen million Dutch wanted me to win. Now the extreme pressure is off and I can win more."
And with another event remaining in the 1,500-meters race later on in the Olympics, Wust might only get stronger and claim yet another medal for her country.
But much like her competition in the 1,000-meter event, could Wust wilt down the stretch and not have enough stamina to finish on the podium yet again? Only time will tell for the Dutch skater and her extraordinary teammates.
Margot Boer, Netherlands
Stop me if you've heard this before: The Dutch reached the podium in speedskating.
No, it's not a rare occurrence, but it is an astronomical feat for the Netherlands. The two medals one from the 1,000-meter event moved them into second in the medal count with 12.
And as previously mentioned, every single medal for the Dutch has come from speedskating. While it was pointed out by Dan Wolken of USA Today on Wednesday, the absurd numbers still stand on Day 6 as the two countries are now tied following the event:
The Netherlands has a couple million fewer people than the state of Florida but have one more medal than the US to this point (10-9)— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) February 12, 2014
Much like Wust, Boer was near the end of the event with Zhang's time in sight. But without the same stamina that the Chinese skater showed down the stretch, Boer came up just short of both Zhang and her teammate Wust.
With several events still left to go in both the men's and women's portions on the ice in speedskating, the Dutch could continue to rack up medals and dominate the podium.