Long-track speedskating action heated up at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Friday as the best men's and women's teams in the world vied for medal opportunities.
The men's team pursuit quarterfinals and semifinals were held, as were the women's quarterfinals. As has become the norm in Sochi, all three rounds of competition were essentially a showcase for the Netherlands' speedskating dominance.
Although the Netherlands' individual success already was established, it proved that it can thrive as a team as well. The team pursuit featured a series of three-on-three races, and the Dutch were essentially perfect.
The same can't be said for the United States, as its nightmarish speedskating record got even worse on Friday. Big things were expected out of a number of American speedskaters in Sochi, but Team USA couldn't break out of its funk.
Along with a breakdown of the major happenings in each of Friday's team pursuit rounds, here are the full results.
|2||South Korea||3:40.84||Semifinal 1|
The men's quarterfinals were essentially a microcosm of long-track speedskating as a whole at these Olympics. As expected, the Netherlands was dominant again as the team of Jan Blokhuijsen, Sven Kramer and Koen Verweij blew out an overmatched French team by nearly nine seconds.
Since all three members of the Dutch team have medaled in Sochi, their showing wasn't particularly surprising.
The Netherlands entered the day with 22 medals at the 2014 Winter Games, and 21 of them came by way of long-track speedskating. Based on how the Dutch looked in the quarters, a 22nd medal is almost certainly on the horizon.
The biggest speedskating storyline in Sochi aside from the Netherlands' monopoly on the podium has been Team USA's struggles.
The Americans had no speedskating medals entering the day, but the trio of Shani Davis, Brian Hansen and Jonathan Kuck had a chance to salvage something. Their issues continued, though, and they were beaten by Canada by three-and-a-half seconds.
Davis was considered the favorite to win the 1,000- and 1,500-meter races but he didn't medal in either.
Losing in the quarters of the team pursuit was the cherry atop Davis' sundae of mediocrity. After the disappointing showing, he was understandably upset, according to Amy Donaldson of the Deseret News:
"This is something that’s going to stick with me for a long time. I’m a pretty resilient guy; I’ve been through a lot of stuff." @ShaniDavis— Amy Donaldson (@adonsports) February 21, 2014
The United States will be entered into the D Final, although its medal opportunity went by the wayside. A distraught Davis didn't seem particularly interested in competing in what amounts to an exhibition, per Donaldson.
Asked if @ShaniDavis planned to skate Saturday's D Final, he laughed. "I hope that was my last race here in Sochi."— Amy Donaldson (@adonsports) February 21, 2014
Additionally, South Korea beat out host Russia, while Poland edged Norway, which set up an extremely interesting pair of semifinal races.
|3||South Korea||3:05.28||Final D|
Who will win gold in the women's team pursuit?
In many ways, the women's quarterfinals played out much like the men's side. The Netherlands was heavily favored to come out on top, and it didn't disappoint.
Like the men's team, the Dutch women's team featured three Sochi medalists. Jorien Ter Mors, Lotte Van Beek and quad medalist Ireen Wust entered the quarters with all eyes on them.
With that said, they faced a tough test against Team USA. The Americans were saddled with the most difficult possible draw, so the chips were stacked against them in terms of snapping the United States' speedskating medal drought.
If any team could have potentially shocked the Netherlands, though, it was the triumvirate of Heather Richardson, Brittany Bowe and Jilleanne Rookard. The Americans performed quite well and would have beaten Japan in the third semifinal, but it wasn't enough against the Dutch.
The Netherlands made things look easy as they effortlessly set a new Olympic record with a time of two minutes and 58.61 seconds. With that loss, it ensured the United States would leave Sochi without a single long-track medal, according to Willie Cornblatt of NBCOlympics.com:
It marked the first time since the 1984 Olympics the United States was shut out in speedskating, and it was just the third time in Olympic history, per Nick Zaccardi of NBC Olympic Talk:
US women lose to NED in team pursuit. No speedskating medals for US for third time ever, its most productive winter sport (67 medals).— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) February 21, 2014
While most of the focus was on that race, the Russian fans were thrilled their team of skaters advanced to Saturday's semis as well. Russia will take on Poland and, in all likelihood, the winner of that race will earn a shot at knocking off the seemingly invincible Netherlands for gold.
|1||South Korea||3:42.33||Final A|
Any concerns regarding the Netherlands' ability to maintain its high level of skating in the semis were quickly erased. The Dutch took on an upstart Polish team that hoped to shock the world, but it was ultimately more of the same. Poland was clearly the weakest trio to make the semifinals, and it was no match for the Netherlands.
The Dutch improved upon their strong quarterfinal showing by nearly four seconds, and they sent out a warning shot heading into the finals.
The Netherlands was so good it would have lapped Poland had the race lasted a bit longer, but it settled for a margin of victory of 12 seconds, according to Cornblatt:
Man, Dutch putting on a show, close to lapping Poland, finished more thana full ten seconds ahead of them! #speedskating— Willie Cornblatt (@WillieCornblatt) February 21, 2014
In the other semifinal, the defending Olympic gold medalist Canadians faced off against South Korea. Canada had plenty of momentum coming off its win over the rival United States in the quarters, and it opened a sizable early lead. Korea showed a great deal of stamina, however, and was able to mount a huge comeback to advance to the finals.
With that loss, Korea assured itself of at least a silver medal, while Canada will take on Poland for bronze, per Sonali Karnick of CBC:
Canada will race for bronze in long track team pursuit. Lost semifinal to Korea. @CBCOlympics— Sonali Karnick (@sonalikarnick) February 21, 2014
Canada will be favored in that race, but falling short of the final is certainly a disappointment. Defeating the Netherlands would have been a nearly impossible task, but crazy things have been known to happen in speedskating.
Korea should pose a solid challenge to the Dutch on Saturday, although there isn't a team in the world that can beat the Netherlands right now when it is running on all cylinders.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter