SOCHI, Russia — American Shani Davis, who won two speedskating golds and two silver medals at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games, will leave Sochi without an individual medal — despite a last-ditch effort by the U.S. team to reverse their dismal performance to date by abandoning the Under Armour suit that was trumpeted as a game-changer.
In his last attempt to win an individual medal in Sochi, Shani Davis abandoned Under Armour’s so-called Mach39 speedskating suit, which was trumpeted as a game-changer for American athletes, and reverted to an older, familiar suit he’d used in world Cup competition. But the result in Saturday’s 1,500 meters was disappointing, with Davis finishing seventh among the 34 skaters to compete to that point, with a time of 1 minute, 45.98 seconds.
With six skaters remaining at Adler Arena, Poland’s Zbigniew Brodka leads, with a time of 1:45.00.
Speedskating has been a strength of U.S. Olympians for decades, accounting for 29 gold medals and 67 overall medals. And the U.S. long track team was expected to do extremely well at the 2014 Sochi Games but has flamed out so far, with no athlete finishing better than seventh through six of 12 events.
Puzzlement turned to alarm earlier this week when Davis, the world record holder and two-time Olympic champion in the 1,000 meters, finished eighth — nowhere near the podium.
Davis dismissed a suggestion that Under Armour’s allegedly revolutionary suits played his role. But after team members took a secret vote about whether to abandon the suit mid-way through the Games and go back to the model that he used during the world cup season in hopes of jump-starting their performance, the U.S. made the change.
It’s unclear how Davis voted. Because Olympic rules require that all members of a country’s team compete in the same suits, all of the U.S. speedskaters have switched to the familiar suit.
Jonathan Kuck, 23, of Urbana, Ill., was the first American to compete Saturday in the world cup suit, which is black with bright blue sleeves. Paired against Russia’s Alexskeu Suvorov, Kuck finished in 1:50.19, more than four seconds off his opponent’s pace, which placed him 15th among the 18 skaters to go at that point.
Fellow American Brian Hansen, deemed a medal contender, faired far better in a later pairing (1:45.59).
A four-time Olympic medalist, Davis, 31, won gold in the 1,000m and silver in the 1,500m at both the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games. He finished outside the top 20 earlier in the week in the 500m, though that result didn’t trigger alarms because he typically uses that race as training for his signature event, the 1,000 meters.