VANCOUVER, British COlumbia -- It isn't a role the United States is accustomed to playing, least of all at an Olympics. But the Americans' almost certain status as the top medal dog at the Vancouver Games is the result of its recurrent role here as successful underdog.
But Friday's results from the Richmond Olympic Oval took the upset to another level and silenced everyone wearing red or orange, which is to say most of the crowd. In team pursuit qualifying, the U.S. took out two of the most emphatic favorites at these Games, the Canadian women and the Dutch men.
The American men, led by that old cowboy
But then the Canadian women were supposed to have been even more untouchable than their countrymen in the team pursuit, which features national teams of three skaters eliminating one another through quarterfinals, semifinals and a final.
But in the women's quarters, the last finisher for the U.S.,
When they tossed back the hoods of their speed suits, none of the U.S. women had any idea that they'd won.
"Wow," Swider-Peltz Jr. said, as the result sank in.
"I still can't believe it," Nesbitt said a while later. "To be honest, I don't know what to say."
"I was floored," said
Moments later the victors -- Swider-Peltz Jr and Rookard had teamed with the veteran
"Can we watch this?" Rodriguez asked.
Little did they know that, before the race, Kuck had been saying to himself, "Wow, the women really beat the Canadians? We might as well do the same thing as the girls."
Like the women, the U.S. men needed a few beats to realize what they'd done. "It was, 'Oh my God, we beat the Dutch,'" said Hansen. "And, 'Oh my God, we won a medal.' Two things at once."
For U.S. Speedskating, today's showing constituted a late-Games gift. The American Olympic team had delivered its record performance despite paltry contributions from the sport that, coming into these Games, had won more winter medals than all others combined.
But if the women can beat Germany Saturday, they'll be guaranteed a silver in the team pursuit. If not, they could still pick up a bronze with a victory over either Japan or Poland in the "B" final.
Meanwhile, to hear Hedrick tell it, Kuck and Hansen, who placed second and third at the 2009 Junior World Championships, are poised to join
As for Kramer, he said, "It's totally not what I expected before the Olympics."
Nor, truth be told, is it what the Americans expected. "We view it like the miracle of 1980," said Marsicano. "A bunch of different backgrounds, a bunch of different skaters, but we all came together and made it happen."