SOCHI, Russia — With the Winter Olympics winding down, there’s more dissension for U.S. Speedskating.
Maria Lamb took aim at the organization’s leadership after her last-place showing in the women’s 5,000 meters, the latest in a string of disappointing results for the Americans.
The U.S. team has yet to win a medal in Sochi, with much of the focus on the high-tech skinsuits that were dumped midway through the games.
Lamb said the problems run much deeper than what the skaters were wearing.
”The skinsuit issue is honestly just the tip of the iceberg,” she said after finishing 16th on Wednesday. ”Over the last few years, a few of us have raced better in spite of the organization rather than because of it.”
The U.S. arrived at the Olympics with high hopes after a strong season on the World Cup circuit, further bolstered by the unveiling of a new suit developed by Under Armour with assistance from defense giant Lockheed Martin. Shani Davis, Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe all were considered strong medal candidates in multiple events.
It hasn’t worked out that way. The best American finish is seventh with two events remaining, the men’s and women’s team pursuit. The skaters hastily switched back to their old suits after the sixth day of competition.
”The organization could have done a lot of things differently,” Lamb said. ”We have lost a lot of staff and we’ve to deal with a huge amount of controversy. That definitely affects you.”
She added, ”That (expletive) adds up over the years, and unfortunately it came to a head that we could no longer perform well.”
U.S. Speedskating executive director Ted Morris, who has only been on the job since September, said Lamb was placed in a difficult situation when asked about the team’s problems right after her disappointing finish. It was the second straight Olympics where she has posted the slowest time that counted in the 5,000, finishing 15th four years ago only because another skater was disqualified.
”It’s an emotional situation,” Morris said Thursday. ”It’s hard to ask a soldier how the war is going when they’re in the foxhole getting bombarded. That’s the situation we have here a little bit.”
He noted that other skaters, including Richardson, have praised the governing body for its support heading into the Olympics and the steps it has taken to deal with funding woes and organization infighting.
”I guess we’re getting a little frustrated,” Morris told The Associated Press. ”We feel like there’s a little bit of piling on right now.”
Lamb expressed regret about the tone of her comments on her blog Thursday.
”Being more than just a little bit tired at the time, I’m not sure I did a very good job of fully expressing my thoughts, emotions and feelings to the press,” she wrote. ”I feel that some people could have perhaps misunderstood what I was trying to convey.”
Lamb conceded that she was frustrated about her performance and expected to fare much better.
”I apologize if I came off as being negative, sounded like I was making excuses for myself or anyone else, or offended anyone,” she wrote. ”That was not my intent.”
But she repeated how difficult it has been to watch one big name teammate after another fail to skate as well as they could on the sport’s biggest stage. She called the whole situation ”heartbreaking.”
”I felt that we were let down by some of the leadership in U.S. Speedskating, mistakes were made that were out of our control,” she said. ”The team atmosphere grew increasingly negative as time went on, and as much as I tried to stay positive, I struggled at times and I know it affected my training.”
Davis chuckled when told of Lamb’s comments.
”Whoa, she even swore, huh?” he said after a training session at Adler Arena.
”When you finish last but have the potential to do better, you’re kind of angry,” Davis added. ”Maybe if you gave her five minutes to cool down and have some Power Bars and water, then maybe she wouldn’t have said what she said.”