He focuses on the physiology of skaters and the impact training methods have on their bodies, including skating at high altitudes. He says his approach is based on research that shows living above sea level provides additional endurance when skating at sea level. Everything in a skater's life is monitored, from practice sessions to equipment to diet to massages.

"He basically set the red line for us coaches to follow as far as altitude and training and the point of when to move where," said Canada coach Brad Schouten, who coached with Halvorsen. "He's a good philosopher. He sets up really good plans combined with science."

The plan for Sochi was more quantitative than previous ones and based on statistics such as World Cup results, according to former US Speedskating chief executive Mark Greenwald, who worked with Halvorsen in Calgary before bringing him back to US Speedskating. (Greenwald left in 2013 as part of Plant's overhaul but remains a consultant.) Jack Mortell, an Evanston resident who has been a longtime fixture in the sport, also contributed to the plan.

This season, the U.S. collected 28 World Cup medals — and increase of four from the previous year — a haul Halvorsen said was the biggest ever. Bowe set the world record in the 1,000 meters in November.

However, in the last five years, U.S. skaters also have won a higher percentage of races at high altitude than at sea level, according to race results the Tribune reviewed. And nearly half of all the medals went to Shani Davis – who trains outside of the national program on his own without a coach.

Subhead

The trend that matters most to the USOC — U.S. athletes winning Olympic medals — has been headed downward.

After winning eight in Salt Lake City's high altitude in 2002, the country won seven medals four years later in Turin, Italy.

The team won just four medals in Vancouver, Canada, in 2010, with only one by a skater who trained at high altitude, Chad Hedrick.

The U.S. had prepared for the 2006 Turin Olympics in Collabo, 275 miles from the site of the Games. This year, after the disappointing showing in Vancouver, they tried to recapture the magic in Italy.

"That's why they prepared (for Sochi) this way," Greenwald said. "They had success. So you try to repeat what works."

It didn't.

"Altitude training for skating is absolutely not the single answer," Halvorsen said. "The trick here is to put those two together in an optimal way."

The Dutch team did just that on its way to setting an Olympic record with a mind-boggling 22 medals. The Netherlands team also trains in the Italian Alps but usually goes three times each year, sometimes for two weeks at a time. Otherwise, it remains in lower altitudes.

Coaches and skaters have begun questioning the wisdom of US Speedskating's leadership. Perhaps the skaters peaked too early. Arguments for additional sea-level training away from Salt Lake City resurfaced from skaters and coaches who train in Milwaukee, where Halvorsen had a camp last fall.

On Wednesday, three-time Olympian Maria Lamb said, "Finn Halvorsen has done a lot of damage the way he has single-handedly perhaps destroyed so many good athletes … due to a lot of his calls and actions."

The next day, Morris contacted the Tribune.

"Everything I read, the negative stuff I read, comes from two people, that's it," he said, thinly veiling his contempt for Lamb and Nancy Swider-Peltz. "And between them they don't have a single medal."

Wheaton's Swider-Peltz — a four-time Olympian who coaches Glenview's Brian Hansen, the highest finisher among long-track skaters in Sochi — was blistering in her critique last week of the national team's program.

Just before the Games ended, Under Armour extended its deal with the federation through 2022. The next day, USOC Chief Executive Scott Blackmun described the Olympics as "an experience."

Thursday, the best U.S. speedskater since Eric Heiden weighed in.

"It's a wake-up call," multiple Olympic medal winner Shani Davis said. "You can't continue to squeak by getting the results we were getting, then have something like this happen."

The road to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, another sea-level track, begins when the cauldron in Sochi is extinguished.

jahopkins@tribune.com

Twitter @jaredshopkins