RICHMOND, B.C. - 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.
The 32-year-old Hedrick teamed with three teenagers to lead the United States to a pair of victories yesterday, including a shocker over Sven Kramer and the top-seeded Dutch in the semifinals. The Americans advanced to face Canada in today'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 ahead of Nesbitt, the final Canadian skater to finish on the opposite side of the oval.
The United States advanced to face another daunting opponent, defending Olympic champion Germany, in today's semifinals. Even if the Americans lose that head-to-head race, they'll still be racing for bronze against Japan or Poland.
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.
"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."
Everyone pegged the United States as a 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 United States 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 1 1/2 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.49.16337 -123.1366 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section Amateur!
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.