By Julian Linden
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - New suit, same result. For the United States, the speed skating competition at the Sochi Winter Olympics cannot finish soon enough.
After eight events, the highly-touted American team is yet to win a single medal and time is running out.
With just four races left, the once-unthinkable prospect of going home empty-handed is now looming as a real possibility.
On Sunday, three Americans were entered in the women's 1,500 meters and all three bombed out.
Heather Richardson, who won the sprint at last year's world championship, was the best of the trio, coming seventh, crossing the line more than four seconds behind the winner, Jorien ter Mors of the Netherlands.
Brittany Bowe, the world record holder for 1000m, finished 14th and Jilleanne Rookard, the oldest of the three Americans, could only manage 18th.
It has been a familiar pattern at the Adler Arena although Sunday's results did at least confirm one thing.
The high-tech Under Armour suits that the team wore during the first week of competition could not blamed for Sunday's results.
For the second night in a row, the team wore different suits after getting permission from the International Olympic Committee to switch outfits and use an older version that most preferred.
"If it's not the suits, it's something else," Rookard told reporters, echoing the sentiments expressed by her team mates and the squadron of flying Dutch skaters who have dominated the competition, winning 16 of the 24 medals decided so far.
Bowe said she was still at a loss to explain why the American team had failed to live up to expectations but the decision to switch suits showed that it was more than just what they were wearing.
"It's just to eliminate the what-if factor. Whether or not that's it, nobody knows. We've just kind of have an unfortunate week," she said.
"At the end of the day, as long as we're trying our hardest and giving 100 per cent, that's all we could ask for.
"It could be this, it could be that. That's just one factor to try to eliminate and you saw the results today."
Richardson also acknowledged that suits were not to blame, saying she was tired of the speculation so had adopted a different approach.
She made a flying start, charging through the first 300m faster than Ter Mors, and was less than four-tenths of a second behind the eventual winner nearing the halfway point when fatigue began to set in and she could not keep up the pace.
"I can't complain, it's my fastest sea-level time, apart from one time in Milwaukee, so I just wanted to go out and have fun today," she said.
"It was a comfort thing, it's what we've been racing in all year. I couldn't really complain about the other skin either."
With the Netherlands again sweeping the medals on Sunday, the United States have their work cut out getting on the podium in the two remaining individual events, the men's 10,000m and the women's 5,000m.
There may a ray in the hope, however, in the team pursuit events, with the Dutch only able to collect one medal in each.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)