The U.S. speed skating puzzle [Letter]

February 20, 2014

Comments and observations about the U.S. Olympic speed skating team should cover the gamut of possible influences as to the unexpected results of the competition ("In Sochi, Under Armour skates into some sturm und drang," Feb. 15). It seems very strange to me that so many are quick to point to a very thin, sleek, and I am sure almost weightless, suit as being the culprit for outcomes that have not resulted in winning Olympic medals. I have competed in athletics for many years, not anywhere close to the Olympic level, but regardless of the level, I do know that for each and every sport there is a myriad of areas that influence outcomes. When it comes to figuring out what could have possibly caused unexpected results, it's best to leave this up to the experts to dig deep beyond the surface.

Travel time to an event, jet lag (countries with less travel time have less jet lag) and physical acclimation to a new area (e.g. altitude) are huge contributing factors. On average, our athletes had to travel 9,000 miles versus 2,000 miles for the athletes from the Netherlands. There is the area of familiarizing yourself as much as possible with the arena and any unique nuances that could be used to help compete. From the little research that I have done analyzing the recent World Cup competitions and the Olympics, there are slight differences in inside air temperature, ice temperatures and humidity levels in the arena. There is the physical and mental preparation, both long term and short term, including training, diet and a sound night's sleep. Add to the list the psychology of an individual's approach to an event.

Equipment beyond a suit you wear is another contributor. One of the most important pieces of equipment for a speed skater is the skates. I am curious, did our team or any of the individuals do anything different here? Did any of the other competitors use a slightly different approach in the preparation of their skates or possibly improved the skates they used?

Leading up to participating in the events, there are many outside influences these days that need to be managed. The distractions of social media could negatively impact an Olympian's ability to stay 120 percent focused on the task at hand. Athletes are bombarded with text messages, emails and phone calls that I am sure play into their psyche. They are faced with Facebook exchanges, becoming instantly famous on Twitter and possibly posting video on YouTube. How does one even measure the adverse effect all of this could have on an athlete?

Another factor to be considered is the hometown crowd and the pride associated with playing in front of your countrymen. This can be a huge factor enhancing an individual's ability to play or perform above their normal levels. One of many examples of this is when our U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in 1980 at Lake Placid and then went on to win the gold against Finland. There was no explanation for them to be able to win against a Soviet team that dominated the sport for decades, except for the belief that it was a "miracle on ice.". The Soviet Union won the gold medal in six of the previous seven Winter Olympics and they continued to dominate until the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

My research revealed that most of the women speed skaters' times were much worse in this Olympic competition when compared to recent World Cup times except those skaters from the Netherlands. One hypothesis to pursue would be that the Netherlands team was very successful in making adjustments for the speed skating portion of the Olympics. After all, as of a couple days ago, 16 of the Netherlands 17 medals were from speed skating.

Yes, there were certain expectations for our athletes to win medals in speed skating. I know that they worked their butts off and approached the Olympics with a great attitude, giving it their very best to achieve their goals and their lifelong dreams. This goes for each and every United States Olympian and easily extends to their coaches, businesses (to include Under Armour), and a long list of supporters including family and friends. Let's not overlook the fact that each and every Olympian from every competing country has the same lofty goals and lifelong dreams to win a medal at the Olympics. What did the athletes from the opposing countries do differently to enable their skaters to do just a little bit better (fractions of a second) than our team from the United States?

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