U.S. pursuit teams advance: Women upset Canada; men skate for gold

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 26, 2010 

RICHMOND, British Columbia — There has been bigger upsets in Olympic history, but for the U.S. long track speedskating team it sure didn't feel like it Friday afternoon.

"It feels like the miracle from 1980," U.S. skater Trevor Marsicano, 20, said referring to American's hockey upset over Russia at the Lake Placid Games nine years before he was born.

The U.S. women upset the Canadian gold-medal favorites in the team pursuit, inspiring the men to pull off a similar surprise. The U.S. men beat the Netherlands in the semifinals assuring themselves of a medal.

The women race Germany in the semifinals Saturday and the men race Canada for gold. The women's gold and bronze medal races are also Saturday.

The crowd cheered so loudly for the U.S.-Canada women's race that it confused the skaters. The Americans thought they were being blown away and the Canadians thought they were winning easily.

But the fans were cheering because the race was so close. The Americans won by 0.04 seconds eliminating the Canadians.

"It was shocking," said U.S. skater Jilleanne Rookard. "... We just looked up at the clock and we saw No. 1 and we went 'Oh my gosh.' If nothing else happens that was a great race."

In team pursuit, three skaters from each team race together at the same time. They race in a pace line similar to cyclists and start on opposite sides of the track so it's rare for the teams to even see each other during the race.

The Canadian women won silver in '06. They also hold the world record in the event and were heavily favored to beat the Americans.

"It's an upset and we are pretty upset," Canada's Kristina Groves said. "The USA had an amazing race and we had just an average race."

Even the U.S. women didn't expect to win.

"I can't believe it," Nancy Swider-Peltz said. "They are medalists already. ... We were just hoping on a prayer that we might even be close."

Jennifer Rodriguez, a 33-year-old who won two bronze medals in 2002, said the win, even if it doesn't lead to another medal, was the highlight of her career.

"This is my most fun (moment)," Rodriguez said. "It is great."

The win inspired the men's team, which easily dispatched Japan in the quarterfinals before watching the women's race.

"That definitely made us all start believing in ourselves," American skater Jonathan Kuck said. "... Seeing that they pulled together the perfect race of their lives, that was really motivating."

The men were underdogs to a Netherlands team led by Sven Kramer, who won a gold medal earlier in the games.

Marsicano, a veteran skater, volunteered to sit out the race against the Dutch saying he wasn't feeling well.

"Trevor stepping aside was admirable," said Chad Hedrick, the U.S. team's most decorated skater. "He is a man."

Hedrick said the team didn't get along well all week because everybody has their own coach, philosophy and technique.

"In the pursuit it's all about skating laps and being in sync with each other and not having any flaws," Hedrick said.

The team came together when it was most important. They took the lead at the 2 1/2-lap mark and led for the remainder of the eight-lap race.

"My first thought when we crossed the line was 'Oh my God, we beat the Dutch,'" said Brian Hansen. "And then I thought, 'Oh my God, we won a medal.'"

The American men can do no worse than silver and once again they will be underdogs. Canada set world records in both of their races Friday. When they collect their medals Hedrick will tie the record of five for a U.S. men's long track skater. Hedrick won a bronze earlier in these games and a medal of each color in '06. Eric Heiden won five gold medals at the 1980 Olympics.

"I'm kind of happy the Dutch aren't in there," said Denny Morrison, a member of the Canadian team that lost the gold medal match to Italy in '06. "But the U.S. beat them, so ..."

The Dutch skaters were visibly upset with each other after the race.

"Oh no, we are not (happy with each other)," said Kramer, who blamed the loss on poor communication. "And I think that's right to do that. Now we have to skate for bronze and that is not what I expected."

The Dutch finished third in '06 and will have to beat Norway Saturday to repeat as bronze medalists.

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