SOCHI, Russia — Maybe it was the suits. Or maybe it was the distraction surrounding the suits.
Or maybe a stunned United States speedskating team just got outskated Saturday in failing to win a medal in the men’s 1,500 meters. That extended to seven the number of events in which the Americans have failed to reach the podium.
World record-holder Shani Davis finished 11th in the event in which he won silver in the past two Olympics. His disappointing race followed a shocking eighth-place finish in the 1,000 meters Wednesday that ended his attempt to become the first male speedskater to win gold in three straight Games in the same event.
“The biggest thing is that I went out there with the intention to get a medal in both events and I haven’t done that,” Davis said.
Davis, 31, skated his last individual race in Sochi wearing the Under Armour skinsuit he used during his successful World Cup season, in which he is still ranked first. The team had unanimously decided, he said, to make the switch, agreeing that their new, high-tech suits — dubbed “the fastest suits in the world” — were slowing them down.
Repeatedly asked whether he blamed the suits for the team’s poor performance, Davis suggested that having to think about the equipment affected him.
“I had to deal with a lot of things I normally wouldn’t have had to dealt with,” the Chicago native said. “I think if we could eliminate all those distractions, if I could just put all that effort into performing and skating, it would have been a totally different outcome.”
Davis was outskated in the 17th of 20 pairs Saturday by Zbigniew Brodka of Poland, who finished in 1 minute, 45.006 seconds and captured the country’s first gold in the event. Three pairs later, Koen Verweij of the Netherlands nearly tied Brodka but fell short by .003 seconds in the closest finish ever in the “king of races.”
Verweij was unable to muster a smile on the podium for the ceremony of flowers, but his country could: With the silver, the Dutch team became the second to win 13 medals in speedskating in a single Olympics; East Germany captured 13 in the 1988 Games in Calgary.
Canada’s Denny Morrison, a silver medalist in the 1,000, took the bronze.
Davis, whose world record in 2009 was 1:41.04, a whopping four seconds faster than Brodka’s winning time, wasn’t even the fastest American in the 1,500 Saturday.
Brian Hansen of Glenview, Ill., finished seventh in 1:45.59. That equaled the seventh-place finish in the women’s 1,000 by Heather Richardson, also a favorite to win a medal coming into Sochi.
Joey Mantia of Ocala, Fla., was 22d and Jonathan Kuck of Champaign, Ill., finished 37th out of 40 skaters.
Hansen, too, cited doubts about the suit in explaining the poor performance of the team.
“The main thing is that I have confidence” with the old suit, he said after the event. “The other skinsuit still may be the fastest in the world, but part of the problem is that we haven’t had the chance to race on it and have the results to know that it’s the fastest suit in the world.”
Davis said the Olympic team should have received the suits before Jan. 1, and that they were not tested in competition. Davis had not finished lower than third place in the 1,000 during the World Cup season, but he fell back after a fast start in the race in Sochi.
“That changed my whole mentality of what I thought about skating, how I felt about myself, my confidence,” he said. “It’s different when you can go into the 1,500 with a medal around your neck instead of going in there with an eighth-place finish.”
Davis suggested the suit, rather than conditioning, had led to his poor result, and by Saturday, he said, “the damage of the suit was already done.”
The Americans are not favored to win medals in the remaining speedskating events. The last US team that failed to medal was at the 1984 Games in Sarajevo.
Davis — rock-star popular in Europe, especially the skating-crazy Netherlands — said he had worked hard to “be a speedskater that Americans knew, loved, followed, and cheered.”
“Now in 2014 I had the whole country behind me, I had all kinds of really cool sponsors and people following me,” he said. “I had everything going into it but nothing to come out with, nothing to show them and give back to them to say thank you for believing in me and following me.”
Davis said the team had yet to decide which racers would compete in the team pursuit. Nor did he say whether this was his last Olympics.
“As long as I still love skating as much as I do and I have the desire and passion in my heart to want to compete against in the world’s best, I’ll skate,” Davis said. “But when you have these performances like 11th and eighth, you start to question if you still have what it takes.”