SOCHI, Russia -- "A million different factors" might have foiled U.S. speed skating in Sochi, American skater Brittany Bowe said, and while people here have discussed four at length and I'd like to posit two more after those, that would pare it only to 999,994.
The most alluring bit of hubbub has stemmed from the fine reporting of Joshua Robinson and Sara Germano in The Wall Street Journal, with expert sources wondering if the U.S. medal total of zero thus far might owe to crummy vents in the super-duper new Under Armour-designed suits. We all loathe crummy vents, but crummy vents only begin to cover the suit-related possibilities.
It could be the suit; it could be the newness of the suit at the Olympics; it could be unfounded neurosis about the suit; it could be disagreement about the role of the suit (or neurosis about the disagreement about the role of the suit); it could be distraction from the team's mid-Olympics change of the suit which, by the way, brought no improvements.
It also could be one of the other realms of chatter here, from the training on fast ice (versus slower Sochi stuff), to the training in high altitude (versus sea level in Sochi, even as U.S. skaters succeeded at both in the run-up), to morale (below sea level in Sochi).
As we plumb into this before blithely ignoring it for the next four years, we also should note that the Americans have a speed skating affliction that beset 7,196,895,587 of the world's 7,213,700,894 people as of Sunday evening in Eastern Europe. They're not Dutch, and that's perilous.
In Sochi, with 88 competing nations, citizens of the 87 nations lacking the name "Netherlands" have mustered eight of the 24 medals given so far. That's two for Russia, two for Canada and one each for South Korea, China, Poland and the Czech Republic. Not only have People Who Are Dutch won the other 16 medals, they've swept three different races and finished 1-2-3-4 in the women's 1,500 meters. They've finished fourth once, fifth thrice and sixth twice.
The U.S. has finished fourth zilch, fifth zilch and sixth zilch.
It has finished seventh thrice.
It does have a problem with the suits; the suits don't have "NED" on them. So commanding is the Dutch prowess that the six-time Olympic medalist Ireen Wust won "only" silver in the 1,500 meters Sunday night and said, "I admit I'm a bit ticked." So thorough is it that a skater from another sport, Jorien ten Mors from short-track, not only became the first Dutch female Olympian to compete in two sports but, after getting a nagging fourth in short-track on Saturday, stopped by the long track on Sunday and won gold with an Olympic record on a track she had visited only twice prior.
"It is bizarre I can do this," she said.
It might sound kind of ha-ha-ha to say the Dutch national competition might trump the Olympics themselves, but it's not farfetched. Nine Dutch medals have gone to eight different men, and seven more Dutch medals have gone to four different women, which gets us to point No. 6 among the million: Once you study it, U.S. expectations do seem a notch overcooked, no matter the success in the recent World Cup season or Bowe's world record in the 1,000 meters.
The United States has won 67 speed-skating medals in 21 Winter Games since 1924 (to 111 for the Netherlands, counting Sochi), and while that leads people to call it the most successful U.S. sport, there's some fallacy because speed skating cannot stop itself from gushing medals, 36 in 12 disciplines here (with 12 medals and four events still to go). Twice previously (1956 and 1984), U.S. speed skating has gone blanked; in the four Olympiads between 1988 and 1998, it won 10 medals total, six from one person (Bonnie Blair).
The U.S. has been loud but not very deep. Its last 11 medals through Turin 2006 (seven) and Vancouver 2010 (four) all have come from males. Of those 11 medals, eight came from two people, Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick. Those two men accounted for three of the four golds since the Closing Ceremony of the home cooking in Salt Lake City, where the U.S. got five medals from men and three from women, including two gold medals from men and one from a woman.
In Turin, the Netherlands won nine medals with the eight individual ones coming from seven different people. In Vancouver, it won seven individual medals from seven different people. In most of the medal projections for Sochi, four prospective American medalists tended to come up: Davis, Bowe, Richardson and Brian Hansen. Let one or two of those have subpar Games -- Davis, 31, finished eighth in one suit in one of his previous medal events (1,000 meters) and 11th in the other (1,500) -- and you're already talking paucity.
Of course, that doesn't get to how they got from paucity to vacancy, how they wound up with Bowe finishing 14th in the 1,500 and saying, "At this point, I'm going to chalk it up as a win, going out there, skating my best and trying hard till the finish line." That depth of plummet will consume officials in the sport once the emotion ebbs and the analysis starts to comb through the 999,994.