Brittany Bowe posted the second-fastest time in the 1,000 meters and then waited for the last four pairs to go.
When it was over, she was left empty-handed.
The U.S. speedskaters have yet to get on the podium at the Pyeongchang Olympics, while the Dutch earned their fifth gold medal in as many events on Wednesday.
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Bowe finished fourth, one spot out of a medal but still the best result by an American so far.
"It's the Olympics," she said, "and it's top three that matters."
Bowe and several of her current teammates found that out four years ago in Sochi, when the long track team was kept off the podium for the first time since 1984 in a stunning result for a sport that has won America's most Winter Olympic medals.
They have six events remaining to avoid another shutout.
"I don't think there's any tension," Bowe said. "Everybody is skating to the best of their ability. We've had a great atmosphere, great energy. Everybody knows that they've done everything that they can do to prepare and give themselves the best opportunity out there."
Heather Bergsma finished eighth in the 1,000, while Olympic rookie Jerica Tandiman was 28th out of 31 skaters.
Bergsma has won nine medals and Bowe seven in all events at the world single-distance championships, but an Olympic medal has proved elusive in their second games.
"This was definitely my best shot," Bergsma said. "The 500 is going to be difficult."
Bowe is also skating the 500 on Sunday and she is eager for another chance.
"You never know what can happen," she said. "Get one more lap to make a statement; I'm looking forward to it."
The U.S. didn't qualify anyone for the men's 10,000 on Thursday. Their next chance comes Friday in the women's 5,000 with Carlijn Schoutens back on the big oval after finishing 22nd in the 3,000.
At this point in Sochi, the Americans' mood had turned sour and everything was being called into question, including their too-tight skin suits and ill-fated training at altitude for a sea-level games.
"We spent the last four years hearing about Sochi over and over again," U.S. coach Matt Kooreman told The Associated Press. "We're ready for some criticism here and there, but we're ready to bounce back and work through that."
Bowe sustained a concussion after a collision with a teammate in July 2016 and has spent the ensuing 1½ years recovering and trying to regain her form.
"It always stinks to get fourth place. If circumstances had been different with her injury, we could have a different story," Kooreman said. "She just didn't have the legs."
Bergsma's performances have tailed off during the latter half of the quadrennial, and she has yet to translate her success at world championships and World Cups to the Olympics.
"I don't think it's mental," Kooreman said. "You'll see people go through waves where they're on top of the world and they seem unbeatable and then a couple years later they're skating World Cups in the B group. It just so happens that the timing for this turned out to be the Olympics."
Besides the 500, Bergsma has the team pursuit and mass start events for a chance to medal.
"I certainly wouldn't count her out," Kooreman said. "She's a world champion and my guess is that she'll bounce back."
Kooreman said he isn't worried about the skaters getting down and discouraged.
"It's not going to happen to this group," he said. "We're going to come out and we're going to fight like hell the rest of the way."
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org