Germany's Patrick Beckert was fourth on the list of replacement entrants for the men's 1,000-metre competition, held at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
After twice gold medallist Enrico Fabris withdrew from Wednesday's race an hour before it was due to start, organisers could not get in contact with any of the three racers ahead of Beckert on the list.
Once German officials became aware that their man was next in the pecking order, they mounted a frantic search party after several calls to the 19-year-old's phone went unanswered. Even Beckert's sister Stephanie, racing in the women's 3,000m, was enlisted in the hunt.
By the time Beckert returned one of the many missed calls, there were only 17 minutes to go until the race began, making it impossible for him to reach the Oval from the Olympic village in time.
Helge Jasch, manager of the German speed skating team, is reported to have taken the blame for the blunder for not insisting that Beckert attended the race in the slim hope of a spot opening up for him.