SOCHI, RUSSIA – St. Paul native Maria Lamb finished last in the women’s 5,000 meters Wednesday, continuing a dismal Olympic performance by the United States speedskating team.
Lamb didn’t go quietly though. In her postrace interview, Lamb blasted the US Speedskating organization for what she described as a lack of leadership that led to her team’s historic failure in these Games. Lamb called the much-discussed bodysuit controversy the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the problems within the organization.
“I think over the last several years most of us have managed to perform incredibly well in spite of a lot of the organization rather than because of it,” she said. “That adds up over the years, and unfortunately it came to a head here. This is my third Games and there is so much more nonsense in general going on.”
The U.S. has won 67 medals in speedskating in its history — the most of any Winter Olympic sport — and was expected to add to that total in these Games. But the team’s medal count is still stuck on zero with only two relays remaining. Lamb’s race was the final individual event.
US Speedskating has found itself trapped in turmoil almost since arriving in Sochi. Concerns about new high-tech skin suits called “Mach 39” that were designed by Under Armour in conjunction with defense contractor Lockheed Martin prompted the team to switch to their previous suits over the weekend. Speculation ran rampant that a design flaw in the Mach 39 suit actually caused skaters to go slower.
US Speedskating also became divided over whether the team made a mistake by training in high altitude rather than seek slower ice conditions similar to those in Sochi.
Lamb said all the negativity surrounding the team created a toxic environment that affected the athletes’ performance. The Dutch, meanwhile, have dominated speedskating by winning 21 medals so far.
“I know that we’re all capable of so much more than the Games have shown,” she said. “It’s tough to watch us be defeated not so much by the fact that [we’re] not capable of more, but by some of the leadership in the organization. It’s really heartbreaking to me.”
Lamb saved her harshest criticism for former executive director Mark Greenwald and Finn Halvorsen, long-track performance director.
“The organization could have done a lot of things differently,” Lamb said. “I couldn’t possibly get into all of that. If you want to point fingers, Mark Greenwald caused a lot of damage to the organization by treating people wrong or just outright pushing them out. We lost a lot of really good staff and have had to deal with a lot of controversy. That definitely affects you. Finn Halverson has done a lot of damage the way he has single-handedly perhaps destroyed so many good athletes, at least their performance here at the Games, due to a lot of his calls and actions.”
A spokesman for US Speedskating said in an e-mail that the organization was “focused on the upcoming races” and had no comment.
Lamb said neither the Olympic pressure nor the fact that she represented her team’s final shot to win an individual medal had any bearing on her poor performance. Lamb’s time of 7 minutes, 29.64 seconds was 38.1 seconds slower than the 6:51.54 of gold medal winner Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic.
“The biggest thing that has affected me the last couple weeks is the atmosphere we’ve been living in and, cumulatively, the entire mentality and attitude of people after people having races that are nothing close to what they’re capable of,” she said. “The negativity grows and affects you a lot. You try to block that out, you try to forget it, but at the end of the day most of us haven’t been able to overcome that.”
This is the third Games for Lamb, 28, who moved from Shoreview to Wisconsin as a child. Her future in the sport is unclear, but she indicated that she wants to continue to compete at this level.
“I’ve always skated because I love it,” she said. “There’s a lot of good people in the organization. Unfortunately, I feel like they haven’t been able to overcome some of the people at the top, the leadership that’s really just systematically not listened to athletes. Just disregarded us and our opinions and they haven’t necessarily supported individual needs well.
“I skate and I race because that’s truly what I love to do. I know that I’m capable of far more than that race displayed. My job is to figure out how to put things together so that I can perform to my true potential.”