The silver lining is out there somewhere, but time is running out for the Americans to find it in Whistler. Despite a beautiful day of sunny skies and spring-like conditions, the U.S. mood was somber after its third day of dismal results at the 2010 Olympics.
Only one American woman, Morgan Arritola, cracked the top-forty in the 15k pursuit Friday, finishing 38th. The other three—Caitlin Compton, Holly Brooks, and Liz Stephen—were far back in 43rd, 56th, and 58th, respectively. None of them were within four minutes of Marit Bjoergen’s winning time of 39:58.
“It definitely still wasn’t the day we were really looking for,” said Chris Grover, a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s coaching staff. “Especially where some of those guys were in Liberec year last year [at World Championships].”
As the train of skiers made its way up the course’s first big hill, it was clear that it was going to be another rough day for the Americans. Holly Brooks was still in the mix, but the other three were already off the back of the pack.
Compton has much more trouble with the classic discipline, while Arritola has always been a slow starter, according to Grover. Stephen just never got going.
And after skiing with the group for the first 3.75 classic lap, Brooks ran into the wall.
“The second lap, I don’t know what happened. It was kind of like a ton of bricks hit me—my legs just felt like lead,” she said. “To be honest, I probably haven’t felt that bad in a race all year.”
After three races in five days, Brooks said that she may be getting a little worn down.
“In hindsight, I wish that maybe I would have sat out the ten k—I wasn’t originally planning on doing that, and I think that maybe those races took more of a toll, even the sprint,” she said.
While Brooks and Stephen struggled, Compton and Arritola picked up speed after ditching their classic gear in the exchange. Those two struggled with their wax in the warm afternoon, and Compton had to step out of the track to find some kick.
Arritola said that her skis were indeed a little slick, but that they were working when she picked them out ahead of the start.
“I tested ’em beforehand and liked ’em. It’s my call,” she said. “That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Both Compton and Arritola had splits in the top 25 for the skate leg, but it still wasn’t enough to bring them back into the top 30.
The women have three more chances to prove themselves: the team sprint, the 4x5k relay, and the 30k classic. But the tears on Stephen’s face after the finish today showed just how difficult things have been for the team here—and how much they have invested in these races.
Despite being nearly six minutes off Bjoergen’s time, Stephen was fighting all the way to the line, grimacing as she went over the last hill into the stadium.
“There’s people that don’t even get to be here, so you can’t quit,” she said.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.