SOCHI 2014

By Amy Rosewater | March 18, 2013, 11:11 a.m. (ET)
Meryl Davis and Charlie White celebrate their gold medal in the
ice dance free dance program during the 2013
ISU World Figure Skating Championships at Budweiser Gardens
on March 16, 2013 in London, Ont.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White hadn’t even taken off their skates following their world championship performance Saturday when the questions started rolling in from reporters about the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

With less than 11 months to go until the Winter Games begin, Davis and White — who claimed their second world ice dancing title in the Canadian hometown of their top rivals — are the frontrunners for the Olympic gold medal.

Let the Games, and the gamesmanship, begin.

“We have to celebrate these moments, because there is not an infinite amount of them,” White said.

Nor is there infinite time to celebrate.

“We accomplished our goals in this competition,” White said. “We are looking forward to the challenge of next year and making the most of it. We would like to win the Olympic gold medal so you know it’s just back to work now.”

While some of the U.S. skaters will get a chance to take a brief hiatus from training following the World Championships, it won’t be long before they are back on the ice. In fact, some of them have already selected program music, contacted choreographers and mapped out the next crucial months as they prepare for Sochi. In the skating world, where such decisions are important any season, they are magnified 10-fold in an Olympic campaign.

Several of the top skaters, Davis and White among them, are expected to participate in one more competition, April 11-14 in Tokyo and then will do a pre-Olympic media shoot in West Hollywood, Calif., later in the month.

From then on, it’s full on for Sochi.

Here’s an outlook for the U.S. figure skating team with less than a year to go before the Winter Games begin:

WOMEN

Some might look at the medal podium from these World Championships, with reigning Olympic champion of South Korea, Yu-Na Kim, with the gold, Italy’s Carolina Kostner with the silver and Japan’s Mao Asada with the bronze and wonder how this event could have been viewed as a success for the United States.

But it was on several fronts.

 
Gracie Gold skates in the ladies free skate program during the 2013
ISU World Figure Skating Championships at Budweiser Gardens on
March 16, 2013 in London, Ontario, Canada.

The big news for the women in London was that Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold finished high enough in the standings — fifth and sixth respectively — to earn three spots for Team USA for Sochi. It will be the first time since 2006 that a U.S. Olympic team will feature three women.

“I always said my main goal coming into this worlds was getting the three spots back,” Wagner said. “That was my goal. Getting on top of the podium or on the podium would be icing on the cake.

“For us, what we accomplished, with this strong international field, is more than standing on top of that podium. It’s something we haven’t been able to do for, what, five seasons now? That goes to show how difficult it is to get those 13 points. The fact that Gracie did it with me her first time out, it’s huge.”

Wagner felt her debt to Team USA has been repaid. She was part of the U.S. world team in 2008 that lost a spot and she also was the victim of the United States only having two spots when it came time to select the U.S. Olympic Team in Vancouver. Wagner finished third at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and had to put her Olympic hopes on ice for four more years.

Wagner, 21, the two-time national champion who was making her third appearance at the World Championships, did not achieve her goal of landing a triple-triple in London but she didn’t make major mistakes in either of her programs.

Gold, 17, was making her worlds debut and although she placed ninth in the short program, she said she learned to trust herself enough to showcase a strong long program. In fact, Gold finished fifth in the free skate, followed by Wagner, who was sixth.

She turned out on the landing of her opening triple Lutz-triple toe and came close to the boards after turning out of the landing a double Axel, yet her overall performance was strong enough to score her 125.40 points in the free skate, 12.53 more than her international season’s best.

Gold admitted she had “no idea what to expect” coming into these worlds and also said she was star-struck by being in the same locker room with Kim. She even made it her goal to get up the gumption to ask Kim to take a photo with her at worlds but as of Saturday, Gold said it hadn’t happened.

“I chickened out,” Gold said.

Now, with the experience of competing in such elite company on her skating resume, Gold said she feels she is “on the right track” for Sochi.

“I’m glad I’m here and I was able to skate like I did. I think that’s important since this is (the year before) the Olympic season,” Gold said. “The Olympics are something that we dream of. You watch every two years and that’s sort of your ultimate goal. I get really excited. I get motivated. I’m excited to come back next week and work toward next year.”

MEN

 
Max Aaron skates in the men's free skate program during the
2013 ISU World Figure Skating Championships at Budweiser
Gardens on March 15, 2013 in London, Ont.

Max Aaron, 21, the hockey player-turned-champion figure skater, made a strong impression in his worlds debut, finishing seventh. A year ago, Aaron took a break from skating and considered retiring. After this season and these World Championships, Aaron said he is more than glad he continued lacing up his skates and is now on track to make the U.S. Olympic Team.

In an era where men around the world are performing as many as three quads in a program, Aaron is one of the few Americans who can keep pace. He landed a quad-double in the short and landed one of two planned quads in his free skate.

He also showed his hockey prowess when he crashed into the boards after landing his second triple Axel.

“It was just, ‘I hit the boards, oh great,’” said Aaron, who trains in Colorado Springs. “The crowd got into it and pushed me to keep going. It's like a big hit in hockey. You hear the crowd and keep going. You feed off that, and that's what I did today.”

Ross Miner, 22, skating in his second World Championships (and first since 2011), was disappointed with his performances here as he had hoped to be competitive with the top skaters. Miner fell twice in this event and placed 14th.

Team USA will have two spots for the men’s competition in Sochi.

ICE DANCE

For years, ice dancing was the weak link in U.S. Figure Skating’s armor but for much of the past decade, this discipline has been the country’s strength. Davis and White entered these championships trying to regain the world title they won back in 2011.

But to do so, they had to compete in the hometown of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions and abundantly loved in London. For Davis and White, who are students at the University of Michigan, it was as if they were playing for the Wolverines in Columbus, Ohio. All over town, signs in support of Virtue and Moir were up and numerous fans wore bright yellow T-shirts for the Canadian couple.

This rivalry is nothing new for Davis and White and Virtue and Moir, in fact they see each other daily since they train at the same rink outside Detroit in Canton, Mich., and train with the same coach, Marina Zoueva. Yet both teams knew the surroundings would play a key role in this competition.

That said, Davis and White performed a brilliant short dance to “Giselle,” and built a nearly four-point lead over Virtue and Moir. While not insurmountable, in football terms, it would be like having a two-touchdown advantage in the fourth quarter. Davis and White did not falter in the free dance, scoring 112.44 points for a total of 189.56 points.

That mission accomplished, it’s already time for the next one.

For Davis and White, one advantage they have leading into Sochi is that they have already competed in one Winter Games, earning a silver medal in Vancouver.

“Going into this Olympic season will be a lot different than the previous Olympic season,” Davis said. “We’ve grown so much in the last three and a half years. We’re different competitors and performers than we were at the 2010 Games. Looking back, we felt so grown up, which I think is the case if you’re an athlete or an everyday person. Looking back, you think you were so mature at one point, but to see our growth is amazing.”

Skating together at the World Championships for the first time as an ice dancing team, Madison Chock and Evan Bates (a 2010 Olympian) finished seventh and Maia Shibutani and her brother, Alex, the 2011 world bronze medalists, were eighth. Team USA will field three ice dancing teams in Sochi.

PAIRS

 
Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim compete in the pairs free skate
during the 2013 ISU World Figure Skating
Championships at Budweiser Gardens on March 15, 2013
in London, Ont.

If you had asked longtime pairs coach Dalilah Sappenfield a year ago if Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim would have placed in the top-10 at the World Championships, she would have said no.

Not because she didn’t have faith in the skaters. It’s because they weren’t even a pairs team. Knierim had been training with Sappenfield for seven years but he didn’t start skating with Scimeca until 11 months ago.

The team gelled almost immediately and not long after they began skating together, they became romantically involved. Normally, Sappenfield is not an advocate of her teams dating, but she said in this case, it has actually enhanced their ability to work together as a pairs team on the ice.

“We keep things on the ice on the ice,” Knierim said.

Scimeca and Knierim certainly exceeded expectations at worlds, placing ninth, the highest of the two U.S. pairs teams. U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who train in Boston, placed 13th. Castelli and Shnapir performed better than their scores indicated but struggled in part because they were the first team to compete in the pairs free skate. 

Scimeca and Knierim train at the same rink in Colorado Springs with the same coach as 2012 U.S. pairs champion Caydee Denney (a 2010 Olympian) and John Coughlin. Denney and Coughlin did not compete at nationals or these World Championships since he has been recuperating from hip surgery but he said recently that he is on track to compete in Sochi, where the United States will send two teams.

Scimeca and Knierim had injury issues to overcome as well as she suffered a foot injury so severe they had to withdraw from the Four Continents Championships last month. Although her foot continued to be in pain at worlds, she fought through and will get some time to rest it now.

The Americans, along with everyone else in the world, will have a tough time catching the Russians, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who beat four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany by more than 20 points.

TEAM EVENT

For the first time in Olympic skating history, a tradition that dates back to 1908, there will be an Olympic skating team event. To compete in this event in Sochi, skaters must first qualify for the U.S. team in their respective skating disciplines. The event will begin on Feb. 6, the day before the Opening Ceremony, and will end Feb. 9.

Team USA is expected to contend for a medal but the heavy favorite (especially after performances at these World Championships) is expected to be the Canadians. Russia, the host country on seemingly on the rebound in pairs and ice dancing following a disappointing showing in Vancouver, should also contend for a medal in this event.

For the most part, skaters are enthusiastic about the event, although it could create some scheduling issues, especially for pairs skaters who begin their event competition Feb. 11. The possibility of winning two medals in an Olympic competition is a welcome idea for skaters who never dreamed such a scenario would be possible. Unlike swimmers and speedskaters, who can come home with a medal haul, skaters historically have had their eye on one prize.

“I thought only Michael Phelps could win more than one,” said Charlie White. “I’m excited about the team event, most of all to be part of a team in general.”

A former hockey player and a huge Michigan football fan, White added, “I am a fan of sports in general and what being on a team means. I think it will be great to be able to rely on team members and to be there for each other.”

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

 
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