TURIN, Italy — Chad Hedrick's quest for five gold medals came to a screeching stop Wednesday night when the U.S. men's speedskating team was eliminated in the quarterfinals of team pursuit, a new and quirky Olympic event, by an Italian squad spurred on by an enthusiastic home crowd.
Skating without Shani Davis, the world-record holder in the 1,000 meters, the U.S. turned to Hedrick, Charles Ryan Leveille and KC Boutiette.
Davis had said after faltering in Saturday's 5,000-meter race that he would skip team pursuit.
Hedrick, gold medalist in the 5,000, skated magnificently. Leveille also skated well. Boutiette, 35, in his fourth Olympics, did not, lagging well behind the two other Americans in the three-man, 3,200-meter event -- at least 10 feet behind by the final lap.
"I'm not a young buck anymore," Boutiette said. "I gave it my all."
The Italian team, led by Enrico Fabris, the bronze medalist in the 5,000, finished in 3 minutes 43.64 seconds, in beating the Americans. The U.S. team had the second-fastest qualifying time in the quarterfinals, 3:44.11, but for naught. Team pursuit involves a series of elimination races -- winner moves on, loser relegated to the consolation brackets.
Advancing to today's semifinals, along with Italy, were Norway, Canada and the Netherlands.
The U.S. women's pursuit team also was eliminated Wednesday, falling in the quarterfinals to Canada. Also in today's semifinals are Japan, Russia and Germany.
In the pursuit, making its Olympic debut here, the three skaters from each team race on the ice at the same time, ideally in a synchronized, single-file line. The three racers from the other team are typically doing the same on the other side of the oval. The clock keeps going for each team until the last of its three racers crosses the finish line.
Hedrick had been of two minds about the pursuit -- which he said was going to be the most problematic event in his quest to match Eric Heiden's Winter Games record of five gold medals, set at Lake Placid in 1980.
Hedrick said after winning the 5,000 that his priorities were the individual events: "I didn't train 28 years of my life to come out here and do the three-man team pursuit, honestly."
But he also has said many times that he was glad to be called upon.
He said Wednesday, "Every chance you get to represent your country and to show what your country can do, I think you should take it. That's my personal opinion. Other people may think differently.... "
With Davis, Hedrick had said a few days ago, the U.S. had a "really, really good chance" of gold in the pursuit.
Leveille led the Americans around on the last lap. Hedrick was immediately behind, pushing on Leveille.
Boutiette was third in the sequence -- and said it would have been better strategy if Hedrick had been last, the better to push the others.
"KC, as soon as the race was over, was crying, came up to me and said he gave it his all, that the tough thing for him was, he was going to have to live with, was knowing he fell behind with two laps to go," Hedrick said.
"I told him, I looked at him, I said, 'You gave it 100%. There's nothing you can do.' "
He added, "I can't think what might have been with Shani there in the race.... This has nothing to do with whether Shani was in the race or not."
Hedrick also said, "I don't have any problems with Shani. We're competitors. We bring out the best in each other. That's about it."
Hedrick is also due to race in the 1,000, the 1,500 and the 10,000. His next event is the 1,000, on Saturday.
"I always say, 'You may beat Chad Hedrick once but you are not going to beat him twice,' " Hedrick said. "This is what we're talking about here."