Americans pull a pair of shockers in speedskating |

Americans pull a pair of shockers in speedskating

AP National Writer
Team USA's Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr., right, and Jennifer Rodriguez, left, react after the women's team pursuit quarterfinals speed skating race at the Richmond Olympic Oval at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Friday, Feb. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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RICHMOND, British Columbia – The Americans pulled one stunner in team pursuit, then another.

When the upsets were done, Chad Hedrick was assured a fifth Olympic speedskating medal heading into retirement, and Jennifer Rodriguez had a shot at one more before she hangs up her blades.

The 32-year-old Hedrick teamed with three teenagers to lead the U.S. to a pair of victories Friday, including a shocker over Sven Kramer and the top-seeded Dutch in the semifinals. The Americans advanced to face Canada in Saturday’s final, which means Hedrick will capture gold or silver in the final race of his career – even without the help of Shani Davis.

“We’ve got a great chance to do something special,” Hedrick said, “when a lot of people didn’t believe in us.”

Rodriguez, 33, and the unheralded American women were an even bigger surprise, knocking off the host Canadians – a team featuring two individual medalists – in the quarterfinals.

“I didn’t know if it was possible to win or not,” conceded Rodriguez, a two-time medalist skating in her fourth Olympics. “When I saw the times from the other heats, I was like, ‘I don’t know if we’ve ever skated that fast.'”

All the Americans had to do was skate faster than the Canadians, a team that featured 1,000 gold medalist Christine Nesbitt and Kristina Groves, winner of two medals at these games.

Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. bobbled a bit on the final turn, dragging her left hand along the ice to make sure she stayed up. She recovered in time to get to the line five-hundredths of a second – about the length of two skate blades – ahead of Nesbitt, the final Canadian skater to finish on the opposite side of the oval.

“We’ve still got room for improvement,” Rodriguez said.

The U.S. advanced to face another daunting opponent, defending Olympic champion Germany, in Saturday’s semifinals. Even if the Americans lose that head-to-head race, they’ll still be racing for bronze against Japan or Poland on the final day of speedskating.

Hedrick will have one more gold or silver in his collection when he heads back to Texas, adding to the bronze he won in the 1,000 and his three medals – one of each color – from the 2006 Turin Games. Only one other U.S. male, Eric Heiden, has won five medals in long-track speedskating.

“I was dead tired,” Hedrick said. “I told these guys if they get me there to that last lap, that I’m going to take them to the line. I did it.”

Everyone pegged the U.S. as a medal long shot after Davis decided to skip the pursuit, but Hedrick pressed on with a trio of 19-year-olds: Brian Hansen, Jonathan Kuck and Trevor Marsicano.

Hedrick skated with Kuck and Marsicano in the quarterfinals, cruising to a 3.90-second victory over Japan. Marsicano was replaced by Hansen for the semifinals, held less than two hours later, as the U.S. went against a Dutch squad with two gold medalists from these games – Kramer (5,000) and Mark Tuitert (1,500).

The Dutch got out of sync, allowing the Americans to build a lead of nearly 11/2 seconds with two laps to go. The orange-clad team came on strong at the end, but Hedrick and the two teens all powered across 0.40 ahead.

When he saw the time, Hedrick threw up his arms, screamed “Yeah!” and pointed toward the roof of the Richmond Olympic Oval.

The Americans won only three medals through 12 individual events at the oval. Now, they have a chance to go out with quite a flourish on the final day of speedskating.

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