By Patrick Johnston
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - The United States speed skating team will depart the Winter Olympics without a medal for the first time since the 1984 Sarajevo Games after their men's and women's team pursuit trios were both knocked out in the first round on Friday.
The men were beaten by the Canadians in the first quarter-final and the women were dumped out by the dominant Dutch, winners of 21 of the 30 individual speed skating medals available at the Adler Arena.
South Korea will skate off against the Netherlands for the men's gold medal on Saturday after they beat Russia in the quarters and Canada, the defending champions, in the semis. The Dutch outclassed France in the last eight and then Poland to reach the final.
Canada and Poland will contest the bronze on Saturday.
The latest loss for the Americans came shortly after U.S. Speedskating announced it had renewed its partnership with Under Armour, manufacturer of their 'Mach 39' suits which the team ditched halfway through competition in Sochi in a failed bid to reverse fortunes.
The American men, who won silver four years ago and had double Olympic champion Shani Davis in their team, will skate against France on Saturday in the D final, a battle between the two worst trios in the last eight.
Their performance on Friday showed a team in disarray, with Jonathan Kuck falling way behind his team mates on the opening lap before burning up energy to rejoin the huddle of Davis and Brian Hansen.
Davis then fell off the pace in the closing stages, the tightly-bunched Canadian trio having barely an inch between them as they crossed the line after eight laps in a time of three minutes, 43.30 seconds, 3.5 seconds ahead of the U.S..
The women only completed their quarter-finals on Friday with Russia beating Canada, Poland taking out Norway and Japan edging Asian rivals South Korea to join the Dutch in making it through.
The Dutch won their quarter-final in an Olympic record time of two minutes 58.61 seconds for their six-lap heat where the trios start on opposite sides of the oval and the winners are the first team to have all three athletes complete the distance.
U.S. skater Heather Richardson said she was delighted in finishing with the fifth fastest time of the eight teams ahead of their C final against Canada on Saturday.
"It was a super solid race for us," she said. "I think it was the best team pursuit we have had all season. And obviously the best placement we have had at this whole Games so we will take it."
The U.S. team had predicted they were capable of winning eight medals prior to the Games but after Saturday's failings meant all 17 members of the team ended empty handed, Davis offered a blunt assessment.
"If I could do a parody from a Simpson's character, I would pick Comic Book Guy and he would say in these exact words: "WORST OLYMPICS EVER," Davis told reporters of the long-running U.S. television show about an animated dysfunctional family.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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