Elite Speedskater Can't Explain Her Epic Meltdown in Pyeongchang

Heather Bergsma says her struggles aren't limited to the Olympics

What to Know

  • Heather Bergsma seemed to be on top of the world a year ago, capable of winning the most medals of any U.S. athlete in South Korea
  • But after finishing eighth in her two best races, the 28-year-old appears destined to leave the Games without a medal
  • The U.S. Olympic women’s speed skating medal drought dates to 2002, when Jennifer “Miami Ice” Rodriguez made the last podium

A year ago, it looked like Heather Bergsma could win the most medals of any U.S. athlete at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

She’s now finished eighth in her two best races.

The 28-year-old appears destined to leave the Games without a medal for a third straight time as part of another disappointing U.S. speedskating performance.

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The U.S. Olympic women’s speed skating medal drought dates to 2002, when Jennifer “Miami Ice” Rodriguez made the last podium.

Bergsma followed her meltdown in the 1,000 meters on Monday — where her last lap was nearly three seconds slower than her penultimate one — with another near-three-second free fall in the 1,500 meters won by Dutchwoman Jorien ter Mors on Wednesday. 

“This was definitely my best shot” at a medal, Bergsma said. “I don’t feel quite as good as I did last year. I think it shows throughout the season.”

Last season, Bergsma won nine of her 11 World Cup 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter starts, plus world championships titles in both events at the Pyeongchang Olympic venue. 

This season, Bergsma finished sixth, sixth, third, second and first in her 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter starts and then skipped the last two World Cups in December and January.

Bergsma, averaging about 10 words per response in an interview Wednesday night, said she feels different this season, physically and mentally.

But she has no idea why.

“Training has been good,” she said. “Trained harder than the year before.”

The numbers show that the last lap is the difference.

Bergsma’s split times from the early parts of the 1,000 meters and 1,500 meters at the 2017 Worlds and 2018 Olympics are for the most part similar.

But her last lap in the 1,000 meters was one second slower this year than last. Her last lap in the 1,500 meters was 1.5 seconds slower.

Bergsma has trained in the Netherlands since 2014, marrying Sochi Olympic 10,000-meter champion Jorrit Bergsma. They share a coach. 

Jorrit has also struggled this season, missing the podium in all six World Cup starts. 

A big storyline at the Dutch Olympic Trials was whether he would even make the team (he did in the second and last spot in the 10,000 meters, which runs here Thursday).

Heather Bergsma had no such concern at the U.S. Olympic Trials, but Brittany Bowe beat Bergsma in two of their three head-to-heads at trials and has been the strongest American this week.
Bowe was fifth in the 1500 meters and fourth in the 1000 meters, missing a medal in the latter by a combined 0.66 of a second.

Those are strong enough results to argue that Bergsma’s struggles are not part of a team-wide problem as in Sochi.

Bowe, who swept the world titles and held the world records in the 1000 meters and 1500 meters in 2015, is coming back this season from a concussion.

Like Bergsma, Bowe said the 1000 meters was her best shot at a medal. Bergsma and Bowe have been the only contending U.S. women internationally for nearly the last decade.
At 28 and 29, these are likely their last Olympics in their prime.
In four years, they will be older than any previous U.S. Olympic medalist in speed skating, which has historically been the U.S.’ most successful Winter Olympic sport by total medals, but has recently faded like Bergsma down the homestretch.

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