The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi will mark the site of the third edition of the team pursuit speedskating competition.
Following five fast-moving events in the men's competition, one thing is clear—the Netherlands have a stronghold on the sport. But the gold medal that has eluded the longtime speedskating powerhouse is one in the team pursuit, as host countries Italy and Canada won in 2006 and 2010, respectively.
Looking at the results from the speedskating events so far, the Netherlands are such heavy favorites that this team pursuit seems like a formality. But you never know what can happen with three skaters gliding together at close speeds for eight laps in one of the most exciting events to watch during the Winter Games.
Here's a look at Canada's winning race against the United States in 2010.
The knockout-style tournament of this eight-team, two-day event also adds another element of intrigue that most other speedskating competitions can't offer. Here's a look at the schedule for the upcoming races, which begin on Friday in Sochi with predictions for the medal winners.
While you can only watch the three rounds of competition live online with NBC Live Extra, you can catch the action on NBC Primetime at 8 p.m. ET on Friday and Saturday.
|Quarterfinals||Fri., Feb. 21||8:30 a.m.|
|Semifinals||Fri., Feb. 21||10:13 a.m.|
|Finals||Sat., Feb. 22||8:51 a.m.|
Gold: The Netherlands
To this point of the 2014 Winter Olympics, the men's speedskating competition has been reduced to the Netherlands versus everyone else. And the Dutch are winning by a landslide.
Of the five men's events to take place so far, the Netherlands has taken 12 of 15 medals, including four first-place finishes. The latest example of Dutch dominance came on Tuesday, when the trio of Jorrit Bergsma (gold), Sven Kramer (silver) and Bob de Jong (bronze) completed a podium sweep in the 10,000 meters.
"They're on fire right now," U.S. coach Ryan Shimabukuro recently told Paul Newberry of the Associated Press. "They've got all the momentum going in their direction."
Tuesday's triumph marked the third 1-2-3 finish for the Netherlands, as they also cleaned up shop in the men's 500-meter and 5,000-meter races. In fact, Koen Verweij's silver medal in the 1,500-meter event, when he was 0.003 seconds behind the winner, is the only individual men's race the Dutch didn't win.
Verweij is in good shape to win a gold in this competition though, as he and fellow teammates Sven Kramer and Jan Blokhuijsen are currently the world record holders in this event, per speedskatingstats.com. The trio set new world lows in back-to-back weeks in November, including the current record of three minutes, 35.60 seconds.
All three skaters have earned medals in respective events so far, and they look like the runaway favorites to add gold to their trophy cabinets in the team pursuit.
Silver: United States
The U.S. placed second at two of three World Cup events that have featured the team pursuit this season, behind the group of Shani Davis, Brian Hansen, Jonathan Kuck and Joey Mantia.
Overall, though, it's been a massive disappointment for the U.S. speedskating so far during the XXII Winter Games, with Davis highlighting a notable crop of athletes to miss out on a medal, as detailed by Newberry.
Led by Shani Davis, Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe, the U.S. posted some impressive results on the World Cup circuit and rolled into Russia boldly predicting its new high-tech suits might give it a shot at equaling or surpassing its greatest haul at an Olympics, the eight medals won on home ice in both 1980 and 2002.
But the new suits turned out to be a bust and were dumped midway through the Olympics. There were also questions about the decision to do high-altitude training prior to an Olympics at sea level, along with some serious soul searching about whether the Americans got complacent after their World Cup success.
No U.S. skater has finished higher than seventh in Sochi, setting up the team for its first medal shutout since 1984.
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who pegged the United States to be facing a speedskating medal drought, but that's where we find ourselves following Day 11 in Sochi. In the end, though, a medal here could serve a nice consolation prize for Team USA on the way out of Russia.
While the Netherlands seems like a lock to handle its side of the bracket and skate into the finals, it will be interesting to see how the half of the tournament works out.
Throughout the World Cup circuit, Korea and the United States have emerged as the top contenders to be runner-up to the Netherlands. Korea's trio of Cheol-Min Kim, Kyou-Hyuk Lee and Hyong-Joon Joo have arguably been more consistent throughout, with three top-three finishes including second place in December at a World Cup race in Berlin.
While the U.S. team might have more top-notch talent, this group has been performing at a high level together and will be worth watching.