Lusetich: US struggles in Sochi as star athletes perform poorly

Team USA, which finished with more medals than any other nation in Vancouver four years ago, is in danger of being marginalized in Sochi.

'This one hurts a lot,' Shani Davis said about his eighth-place finish Wednesday.

Paul Gilham / Getty Images Europe

SOCHI, Russia -- Eighth is (not so) great.

Eighth, however, is the new reality for American superstars at the Winter Olympics after speed skater Shani Davis became the latest gold medal favorite to fail to even get to the podium here.

Like skiers Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso, Davis finished eighth on Wednesday in his signature event, the 1,000 meters, where he was seeking to become the first American male to win gold in the same event for three consecutive Games.

The 31-year-old from inner city Chicago got off to a sluggish start and, shockingly, couldn't find the speed necessary to eclipse the new arena record of 1:08.39 set by Dutchman Stefan Groothuis.

Davis' listlessness surprised even Groothuis, who posted his time then fully expected to lose.

"I was really nervous," he said, "I thought, 'Shani is going to get it'."

He thought wrong, of course.

"This one hurts a lot," said a disappointed Davis.

He was philosophical, though.

"I am not in shock, I am very in tune with reality.

"It's sports, you win some, you lose some.

"I just wasn't there today. It was nothing physical. There is no excuse.

"I wasn't good enough today."

It seems to be a recurring theme with the US, which has fallen into fifth place on the medal table, behind surprise leaders Germany, Canada, Norway and the Netherlands.

It's maybe too soon to push the panic button, especially after the United States took two medals in the women's snowboard halfpipe Wednesday night. But Team USA, which finished with more medals than any other nation in Vancouver four years ago, is still in danger of being marginalized in Sochi.

And the fingers of blame are being pointed at the big names, who have not delivered.

Snowboarding superstar Shaun White left Russia after a nightmare week, controversially withdrawing from the slopestyle event and then finishing fourth in the halfpipe event he dominates.

Skiers Miller, Mancuso and Hannah Kearney all had their colors lowered, as did Kikkan Randall in the women's cross-country sprint free.

Davis didn't want to draw larger conclusions about his failure, but fellow speed skater Brian Hansen -- a medal contender who had to settle for ninth in the 1000m -- acknowledged these Games haven't been good for a US speed skating team that arrived with high hopes.

"We had one of the most successful World Cups we've ever had (in 2013) and I was thinking we're on top of the world and things are looking great for the Olympics and then suddenly you come here and we've missed out on (seven) potential (speed skating) medals," he said.

"There hasn't been any luck for the US.

"It's a mystery to me. I think it's a mystery to a lot of people."

Not a total mystery, perhaps.

The truth is the Americans have saved their worst for the finals.

White was untouchable in qualifying for the halfpipe final, then stumbled on his first run in the finals and couldn't deliver on his second. Miller and Mancuso dominated, too, until the moment of truth.

Kearney, meanwhile, was in tears after winning her bronze medal.

She felt like she'd lost gold, not won anything.

"I feel like I let myself down," she said.

"I wanted that gold medal, and I skied for it, but I made a huge mistake, and you don't win the Olympics when you make a huge mistake."

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich, Senior Golf Writer, turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.