Dutch, Japan top women’s team pursuit qualifying at Olympics

Pyeongchang Olympics Speed Skating Women_568230

Team U.S.A. with Heather Bergsma, center, Brittany Bowe, right, and Mia Manganello , left, celebrates after the quarterfinals of the women’s team pursuit speedskating race at the Gangneung Oval at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

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GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) The Netherlands is in position to win another gold medal in speedskating at the Pyeongchang Olympics.

No surprise, since the Dutch have earned six of nine golds so far.

The Americans have a shot at the podium for the first time, although they’ll have to go up against the Dutch in the semifinals of women’s team pursuit.

Marrit Leenstra, Ireen Wust and Antoinette de Jong set an Olympic record of 2 minutes, 55.61 seconds in the quarterfinals on Monday.

The Netherlands is the defending champion and has won five of the last six women’s team pursuit events at the Winter Olympics and world single distance championships combined.

Japan qualified second-quickest in 2:56.08, followed by Canada in 2:59.03.

The U.S. team of Heather Bergsma, Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello was fourth in 2:59.75, grabbing the last spot for the semifinals.

”Probably wasn’t the prettiest thing but I know we left our heart and soul out there,” Bowe said, ”so looking up and seeing a fourth-place finish knowing that got us to the next round felt like a victory.”

The Americans were racing together for the first time after only one practice. All three had been busy with their individual events earlier in the games.

”Though we haven’t been able to prepare like these other teams, we have just as much heart if not more heart than them,” Bowe said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. will skate against the Dutch, while Japan and Canada square off. The winners advance to the final with gold on the line.

”The best will come in the final,” Wust said.

The losers skate for bronze.

The last 21 team pursuit events in World Cup competition were won by either the Dutch or the Japanese, making the Americans and Canadians underdogs in the semifinals.

That leaves both countries to decide on the best strategy: go all-out in the semifinals against tougher opponents or conserve a bit to ensure something left to claim a potential bronze.

”We have a day to discuss that with our coaching staff,” Bowe said. ”They put together a great race plan for us and set us up for success here in this first round so I’m sure they’re going to put together a plan that benefits us.”

A medal of any color would sound good to the Americans, who have been kept off the podium so far at the big oval for the second straight Olympics.

”Honestly, right now a medal is our goal,” Manganello said. ”We’ll shoot for the best strategy for that.”

More AP Olympics: https://wintergames.ap.org

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