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Sniff sniff. Last. Speed. Sk-skating. Events-s. Good thing they are fun team pursuits for both the men’s and women’s teams, both of which put forth an exceptional performance. Way to sew up the games kids. Way.
Saturday saw the finals for both long track team pursuits. The pursuit event made its début at the 2006 games and let’s just say that the commentators are totally stoked that “it has proven to be vastly entertaining.” You have to imagine Dan Jansen being super excited.
The quarterfinals went down Friday afternoon and the US team pulled a real shocker by beating out the heavily favored Canadian women. The pursuit is all about being completely and utterly in sync with your teammates. Previously, commentators were really impressed by the caterpillar-like start of the Japanese team. Yes, “caterpillar-like.” A single being, many legs. Oh sigh. Olympic commentators, please don’t leave me. I just want to hang out with you all the time, is that so much to ask?
But seriously, the pursuit is a very cool thing to watch. The ideal team is able to skate not only in perfect unison but as closely together as possible. For instance, the Russian team who were favored to beat Poland in their pairing fell away from each other (we later find out due to one of their skaters having inadvertently kicked another and injuring her) and since the finish time is measured by the last skater to cross the line… you see what I’m getting at. If the commentators said it once, they said it a million times, “you’re only as strong as your weakest skater.”
Thanks for clearing that up. Over and over and over again. Hence,”team” “pursuit”.
So the Canadians are an incredible powerhouse of speed, yet Jennifer Rodriguez, Jilleane Rookard & Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. knocked them out of the finals 3:02.19 to 3:02.24– yikes. Cue shocked commentators throwing around phrases like “a perfect race.” Take that with the knowledge of Jansen’s earlier assertion that one of the most unique things he has ever heard from an athlete was Ohno calling his Torino 500 meter race “the perfect race”… and now look at you Dan, just throwing the same phrase around!
Later on the lades talked about their race saying, “under pressure you can do great things, and I think that’s what we did here today.” Rodriguez elaborated on teamwork strategy and the nature of pursuit, referring to a moment towards the end of the race when she gave a teammate a little push from behind: “whatever we can do to help the person in front of us… a tap here… [It was] definitely one of the most fun pursuits.”
The women paired into a semifinal versus the gold-defending German team. It was a close one and it ended as a pretty ridiculous one. The American team lost some of that key ‘tightness,’ the ‘accordion’ movement if you will, but they fought quite the battle forcing the German to fight all the way to the line.
The element of ridiculousity went down a few meters before the finish on the German side: Anni Friesinger-Postma “ran out of steam” after the last turn, fell behind her teammates and pretty much collapsed, belly flop style and proceeded to slide swimmingly on her stomach down the lane. Gathering her wits as she approached the line she swung a leg forward to cross the finish. I guess the rules really are that simple: just get your entire team across the line. Friesinger-Postma clearly thought she had ruined her team’s chance to defend the gold, she was seen face down, pounding her fists on the ice until someone had the decency to inform her that she had still beat the last American across the line. I still find it totally bizarre that slip ‘n’ sliding to the finish qualifies, but hey.
The American team changed their line up for the bronze medal race against Poland, in which Catherine Raney Norman replaced Swider-Peltz Jr. Unfortunately Norman ended up being the skater who fell out of the pack, by over one and a half seconds, costing her team the bronze.
On the other hand, the whole experience can be considered wildly successful for US Speed Skating: fourth place at the Olympics is perhaps the most frustrating of finishes, but it’s also not too shabby. The Americans knocked the Canadian team out of medal contention, fought a tight race again gold medal Germany and an excruciatingly close race for the bronze, forcing Poland to fight every step of the way. All this from a team unexpected to play a great role in the pursuit. Well done.
The men’s team also advanced over a dominant favorite, the Svenergetic Dutch team helmed by Sven Kramer in their semifinal race. Kramer is not having the games that he was promised. Chad Hedrick, Jonathan Kuck and Brian Hansen on the other hand– they had a pretty awesome race after getting through their quarterfinal race against Japan with Trevor Marsicano on the ice (later replaced by Hansen). After the semi, Hedrick reflected on their victory over the Netherlands: “We [had] a chance to slay the monster today with Sven Kramer.” Well that’s one poetic way to put it.
The men met team Canada in the gold medal race which they only lost by two tenths of a second: “a solid race skated by both teams, they both stayed together… Canada just never relented.”
Let’s a take a moment to reflect on how one’s sense of time gets totally warped by watching Olympian racing. It’s insane.
This was Hedrick’s last race in his last Olympic games. He’s retiring to get on with his life, which includes a daughter who will turn one year old next month. He called the silver medal “a great start to a good life.”
Great Olympics for American speed skating.
In related news, short tracker Alyson Dudek’s tweet recently brought this illumination into my life, which I had not previously processed:
@alydudek Congrats to our guys team on their bronze medal! Every USA short tracker goes home with a medal. First time in history!
And that’s it for Olympian speed skating recaps folks! But don’t worry, there will still be a few Olympic entries to help wean us off the excitement over the course of the new week, so don’t forget to check back!