SOCHI, Russia — One silver medal won’t solve what ails U.S. speedskating.
But for a few glorious hours, everyone felt just a little more optimistic.
“Just to pull through, it’s an unbelievable feeling, a relief and it shows how strong of a bond we have,” said Eddy Alvarez, after he and J.R. Celski, Chris Creveling and Jordan Malone finished second to Russia in the 5,000-meter relay Friday night. “To go home to the U.S. not empty-handed is awesome. Cha-ching.”
The winning time for Russia was 6:42.1; U.S. followed at 6:42.371. China took third place.
Alvarez and his teammates said that as each race passed without a podium in both the long and short track, the pressure intensified. And then, just when it looked like all medal hopes were gone, a series of fortuitous events led the U.S. men’s short track relay team to the one and only Olympic speedskating medal for the 2014 Games.
“Just in shock,” said Creveling. “We get to bring the silver medal back to our village, to our teammates, to our country — for long and short track speedskating. It was just a dramatic week for us here in speedskating, and we couldn’t be happier.”
The team made it into the finals due to a penalty called on another team in the semifinal rounds.
“We got advanced to the A final by a miracle,” Creveling said. The team had a tough start position because of it, but even that became a blessing when both the Chinese and Dutch skaters fell down on the first turn of the 46-lap race. Suddenly, all the U.S. had to do was keep up with the Russians.
“My eyes lit up in the first corner,” said Creveling, who started for the squad. “We’ve trained for four years, and I wanted to seize that opportunity. This validates the last four years. ... I couldn’t be any more excited. That second-place means everything.”
U.S. short-track coach Stephen Gough said a single silver medal was never the goal, but it’s certainly appreciated.
“It’s a great way to end the games,” he said. “When we dreamt about how we would do, obviously, we had bigger vision than what our results show for it. But it’s nice to finish on a high.”
He said the race actually should have been restarted because the skaters fell in that first turn. “We didn’t really plan for everyone falling in the first corner, except us and the Russians,” Gough said. “Usually the starter is supposed to call that back. We’ve seen the replay, and that should have been stopped and restarted.”
He feels for the disappointed coaches and athletes because, well, he’s been there.
“I know how it feels when they get a call wrong,” he said.
Malone said the last two weeks have been difficult as race after race left promising U.S. athletes disappointed. But he said the athletes have tried to support and encourage each other. They don’t have answers as to what went wrong, but they know that disappointment and heartbreak is also part of sports.
“We’re never stronger than when we’re tested,” Malone said. “I don’t think this is anything but an opportunity. It’s not a failure. You’ve got to take the word failure out of your dictionary and look at it as, it’s not that we aren’t champions, we just took the wrong way.”
He said they carried the weight of the turmoil on the ice Friday night.
“We went into that last race knowing we were the last hope for a medal in speedskating,” Malone said. “And so, I told the guys, we’re not going to let skating walk away without a medal.”
Alvarez called the season a roller-coaster ride and said stress and bad luck definitely got to the skaters. They looked to each other as they tried to continue to believe in their own abilities.
“It’s so relieving, so relieving,” said Alvarez, who lives in West Jordan and played baseball for Salt Lake Community College. “I literally feel like I just came out of a spa.”
“That’s for them to know,” Alvarez said. “I’m just here to put on a pair of skates with the Cuban flag on (them) and skate.”
In every analysis, any disappointment was dulled by the thrill of earning silver.
“It feels good to leave with a medal,” said Celski, who skated the final two laps. “I’m really proud of my team for all the hard work they put into the last four years. Everything came together tonight.”
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