February 12, 2014 at 1:00 am

Gregg Krupa

Cold shoulder: Big names come up short as U.S. Olympians stumble early

Shani Davis competes in the 1,000 meters on Wednesday; he finished seventh. (Harry E. Walker / MCT)

Sochi, Russia -- Four years ago in Vancouver, it seemed like Team USA threw a party every night.

At the 2014 Games, it is as if we are waiting for the party to begin.

With an early series of disappointing losses and two defending gold medalists down with injuries before they could even travel to Russia, the United States is lagging in the medals race with a total of nine, three of them gold.

The “Amerikaninskiys,” as we are all called here, trail the Norwegians with 12, four of them gold, and the Dutch and Canadians each with 10, four gold.

After its worst Winter Games in Vancouver since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians also have nine medals, two gold. The raucous crowds at the Iceberg Skating Palace are testament to a reassertion of Russian glory.

The Germans are next with eight medals. But six are gold.

The schedule of events often dictates early on in the Winter Olympics that the Americans will lag because events like biathlon and luge do not favor Team USA.

While that is somewhat the case this year, the fact of the matter is the Americans figured to have at least four more medals by now, all gold.

The nightly parties should have been well under way.

Skier Bode Miller in the downhill and snowboarder Shaun White in the halfpipe failed to win any medals for events in which they were favored for gold.

Falling down

Shani Davis, the great American speedskater who attended Northern Michigan, repeated the feat Wednesday, finishing seventh in the 1,000 meters. Had Davis won, he would have become the first man in history to win an Olympic speedskating event three consecutive times.

Lindsey Vonn is not here to defend her gold medal in the downhill. Julia Mancuso, who was expected to contend for the gold, finished eighth.

Meanwhile, men’s figure skater Evan Lysacek is not here to defend the gold he won in Vancouver in an upset of Russian skater Evgeni Plushenko. And Plushenko is here and skated well in the team figure skating competition, in which the Russians won gold. He begins his pursuit of a second gold in the men’s event today.

Another shocking disappointment for the United States came in cross-country skiing, when medal hopeful Kikkan Randall failed to qualify in for the sprint by .05 seconds.

Things are feeling a bit dicey on the shores of the Black Sea and up in the Caucasus Mountains for the old Red, White and Blue.

All of the American golds are in the relatively new snowboarding events, where the United States had a head start on much of the world.

Two were shockingly unforeseen. Sage Kostenberg in men’s slopestyle and, on Wednesday, Kaityln Farrington in women’s halfpipe. Kelly Clark won bronze in the event.

Such out-of-the-blue performances were expected to provide surprising support for a strong medal count. Now, they are a necessary part of the foundation.

With a recent series of eighth place finishes, some members of the media in the so-called mixing zones, where we linger to interview athletes almost immediately after they perform, are suggesting a new crowd chant: “We’re number eight! We’re number eight!”

Of course, we are rarely accused of being a particularly sunny breed.

Always a plan

With six days of competition down and 10 to go, there is a lot of time to win more. The early results, however, are clearly disappointing. It is as if a baseball team is in the fourth inning with one out and nobody on base, having spent the first three stranding runners.

In Vancouver, the United States won an unprecedented 37 medals, nine gold.

An omnibus plan by the United States Olympic Committee launched years earlier was aimed at securing the first overall ranking in medals at a Winter Games since 1932 in Lake Placid.

It worked. Team USA won the most medals for the first time in 78 years.

This quadrennial? Things are feeling a little unsettled, to say the least.

The only thing that has happened so far in Sochi for the first time in 78 years occurred Wednesday, with a pairs figure skating team winning gold at home: Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov.

Particularly daunting is that for the United States, the mighty have fallen.

Davis, 31, said the speed he has found throughout his career eluded him after a fairly fast start. Indeed, about one-third of the way through the event he seemed either injured or gassed. And he later said he is not hurt.

“There is no excuse,” Davis said. “There was nothing physical that was wrong. I just simply didn’t have the second lap and that is something I have always had over my competitors.

“I don’t know what it is, but I’ve got to figure it out before my next event.”

It was disappointment in what was one of the major events of the Games. Had he won, the big guy from the South Side of Chicago, the first African-American in history to win an individual medal in the Winter Games, would have been the first men’s speedskater to win three consecutive gold medals in the same event.

He was so strongly favored that the eventual upset winner, Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands, who finished two pairings before Davis, said, “It was extremely nerve-wracking.”

“I thought Shani was going to get it.”

Davis skates Saturday in the 1,500 meters, in which he has two silver medals.

Plans backfire

An odds-on favorite in the downhill, Miller finished seventh last weekend after declaring, “If you’re not paying attention, this course will kill you.”

After a quick start, Miller seemed to have some difficulty negotiating a gate at the beginning of the second third of the race. He slowed, never recovered and was greeted with stunned silence at the finish line.

“Look at everyone,” he said. “Everyone is making mistakes in the middle of the course, losing five-tenths of a second. I didn’t make many mistakes at the bottom, and I still lost a ton of time.”

It was also true six skiers beat him on the same course and the winner, Austria’s Matthias Mayer, never has won a World Cup race, let alone in the Olympics.

Miller also said after the race, “I’m not sure what went wrong.”

Shaun White pulled out of the men’s slopestyle in snowboarding so he could concentrate on defending his gold medal in the halfpipe

“The potential risk of injury is too much for me to gamble my other Olympic goals on,” White said.

He rode erratically in the halfpipe, falling twice in the first run and looking tentative in the second.

Heavily favored for the gold, he finished fourth.

“I hate the fact that I nailed it in practice, but it happens,” White said. “It’s hard to be consistent.”

And, right now, with 11 days of competition left, there is no consistent winning for the Team USA in Russia.

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

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