SOCHI, Russia — America’s speed skating nightmare continues.
The USA failed to place among the top three Thursday in the women’s 1,000 meters, another race in which American skaters were expected to factor into medal contention, leaving the team shut out of the speed skating medal table after six events.
“I’m at a loss for words right now,” coach Ryan Shimabukuro told the Associated Press. “For whatever reason right now, we are getting skunked.”
For America, it was another event to forget; for China, it was a moment to savor.
China’s Zhang Hong (1:14.02), known more for her work in the 500, won her country’s first Olympic speed skating gold. Her time, a course record, was less than two-tenths of a second shy of the Olympic record (1:13.83) set by the USA’s Chris Witty in 2002 and nearly seventh-tenths of second ahead of her closest competition.
Her heat came in the seventh of 18 pairs, leaving Zhang to sweat out her path to gold through an additional four skaters, a break for ice preparation and the final 18 members of the field.
“I was very nervous, very excited waiting for the last pair,” Zhang said. “I don’t think anybody could have understood how I felt waiting.”
After completing her turn in the 12th pair, China’s Wang Beixing remained on the stage within the oval and tracked the remaining skaters, praying Zhang’s time would hold and give China a historic Olympic first.
“I was so nervous,” Wang said. “I just prayed that China would get a gold medal and she did the perfect race. I am so proud of her for winning a medal for China.”
Netherlands’ Ireen Wust (1:14.69) finished second for her second medal of these Games and the fifth of her career, and Netherlands’ Margot Boer (1:14.90) took bronze. The Dutch have 12 medals, tied for the second most by an individual country in a single Games, trailing the 13 won by East Germany in 1988.
“What is happening here is unique,” Wust said of Netherlands’ performance. “We’ve been good the whole season, and we showed it again at the Olympic Games.”
The top two American contenders were left in what has become a familiar position for the country’s best: Heather Richardson (1:15.23) finished seventh and Brittany Bowe (1:!5.47), the current world recordholder, was eighth. Richardson and Bowe ranked first and second in the World Cup standings, respectively, entering the Games.
“I think other countries are just getting really fast,” Richardson said. “That shows, because me and Brittany were one and two going into the race, and we finished seventh and eighth. But we gave it our best shot.”