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After Olympic High In Sochi, Skaters Prepare For World Championships

By Amy Rosewater | March 25, 2014, 6:08 p.m. (ET)

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani compete in the free dance at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace on Feb. 17, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Soon after Kristi Yamaguchi won the Olympic gold medal in Albertville, France, in 1992, she found herself back on her training rink in Edmonton, Alberta, practicing for yet another competition.

“I literally went right back to training,” Yamaguchi said. “I think I might have done a couple of appearances at malls in Houston and Dallas but pretty much, it was training.”

Kristi Yamaguchi poses with her medal during the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, France.
U.S. Olympians Meryl Davis, Kristi Yamaguchi and Charlie White visit the USA House in the Olympic Village on Feb.18, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 
Gracie Gold arrives at the premiere of Summit Entertainment's "Divergent" at the Regency Bruin Theatre on March 18, 2014 in Los Angeles. 
Polina Edmunds competes in the ladies' free skate at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace on Feb. 20, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

For Yamaguchi it was important to compete in the World Figure Skating Championships that year since they were being held in Oakland, Calif., and she was raised in California’s Bay Area. She won those world championships, successfully defending her world crown from 1991, and then retired from competitive skating. Only then did she start partaking in the perks of being an Olympic champion, touring and making various appearances.

Unlike many of the Olympians today who barely have a medal around their neck before they are off doing morning talk show rounds and attending Oscar parties, Yamaguchi laughs that she had to wait years before she had her turn on “Dancing with the Stars.” (She was cast on the show 16 years after winning her Olympic title and won the TV show title in 2008.) By contrast, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their gold medal last month in Sochi, Russia, and already are two episodes into their appearance on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Yamaguchi worked as a digital media ambassador for the United States Olympic Committee in Sochi, where she spent time interviewing U.S. athletes and contributed to the USOC’s social media coverage of the Winter Games. After her time in Sochi, she flew home to California and soon afterward, she attended the “Dancing with the Stars” premiere. This week her mind will be back on skating as she will be following the results of the World Figure Skating Championships. Worlds will be held in Saitama, Japan, about a half-hour train ride from downtown Tokyo.

The debate as to whether worlds should be held in the same year as the Winter Games has been long and ongoing as some argue that there is no need to crown a world champion when an Olympic gold medal already has been won. But for some skaters, the world championships offer one more chance at redemption and the event this year should provide that opportunity. It’s also a chance, as Yamaguchi said, for some skaters to make their first impression for the next quadrennium. Already some skaters have turned their focus to the next Winter Games which will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018.

“It’s hard after the Olympics to compete again because you are riding quite a wave from the Olympics and there is a little bit of a coming down afterward,” Yamaguchi said. “Hopefully, the U.S. skaters came down a little but the edge is still there.”

Fifteen skaters will represent Team USA at worlds this week. Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds, all of whom made their Olympic debuts in Sochi, will be back to vie for the women’s title. Jeremy Abbott, who competed at his second Winter Games in Sochi, and Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion who just missed a chance to skate in Sochi, will skate in the men’s event. The U.S. pairs teams are Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, and Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, and the ice dancing teams are Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, and Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton. This will be the first major international senior competition for Aldridge and Eaton, while the remainder of the teams competed in Sochi.

Here are some the Team USA storylines to follow for these world championships:

Can a U.S. woman win the world title?

Not since Kimmie Meissner has a U.S. woman captured the world skating crown. Perhaps it’s a good thing that this year is an Olympic year because Meissner captured here world title in 2006, the same year she competed in Torino. Of the three U.S. women entered in these championships, Gold was the top finisher in Sochi in fourth place and appears to have the best shot at winning a medal of some color for Team USA. Wagner, who is making her fourth trip to worlds and placed as high as fourth in 2012, was seventh at the Winter Games. Edmunds, just 15, placed ninth in Sochi, which also marked her senior international debut. Neither Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova, who captured the gold medal in Sochi, and South Korea’s Yuna Kim, who left Sochi with the silver medal, are competing this week at worlds. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be other international skaters making a run at the title. Julia Lipnitskaia, who led Russia to the gold medal in the team event, is entered, as is Japanese favorite and triple Axel threat Mao Asada, as well as Italy’s Carolina Kostner, a former world champion and the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist.

Will Gold be the one to win gold?

Yamaguchi, for one, is hesitant to put those lofty expectations on a fellow American skater, but, that said, she is excited about Gold’s future on the ice. “Her move to (coach) Frank Carroll definitely worked in her favor and we saw a lot of improvement and focus from her in a short time,” Yamaguchi said. “I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg right now with her. She is starting to peak as a top world skater. There’s been a lot of expectations on her that she’s a favorite. She’s definitely in the running and absolutely has a medal opportunity.”

Jason Brown, Jeremy Abbott, Max Aaron and Joshua Farris pose for photographers on the medals podium after the men's competition during the Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on Jan. 12, 2014 in Boston. 

Can the U.S. men earn three spots for the 2015 World Championships?

How Jeremy Abbott and Max Aaron perform at this event will determine whether two or three U.S. men get a chance to compete at worlds next year. The U.S. men’s inability to earn three spots lately proved costly in Sochi, as Aaron knows all too well. Only two men got a chance to compete at the 2014 Winter Games and Aaron, who placed third at nationals in January, was the odd man out. In Sochi, Abbott placed 12th and Jason Brown was ninth. An international selection committee opted to send Aaron to worlds instead of Brown, possibly with hopes that Aaron’s arsenal of quads — he has two planned for his free skate — will help Team USA get that third spot. Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, placed seventh last year at worlds. In order to obtain three U.S. spots at next year’s world championships, Aaron and Abbott must finish with a combined placement of 13 or lower (i.e. if one skater places 6th and the other 7th, a combined 13, the U.S. will be able to send three men next year).

How high can the U.S. pairs teams finish?
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir compete in the pairs free skate at the Sochi Games at Iceberg Skating Palace on Feb. 12, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. 

In their Olympic debut, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir were the top U.S. team in ninth at Sochi. They could move up a spot or two since some of the top teams, including Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, opted not to compete in Japan, but there are never any guarantees in this often rough-and-tumble skating discipline. Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay placed 12th in Sochi.

Will Team USA maintain three spots in ice dancing without Davis and White in the field?

It will be an odd sight indeed to have an ice dancing event without Davis and White entered in it as the couple has been together for 17 years and won two world titles. Although Madison Chock and Evan Bates have only skated together since 2011 they already have achieved quite a bit of success. They were seventh at worlds in 2013 and placed eighth in Sochi. The Shibutanis were ninth in Sochi and will be excited to compete in Japan, the birthplace of their mother. Aldridge and Eaton are two-time world junior bronze medalists. It might be dicey for Team USA to secure a third spot for 2015 but it is not out of the realm of possibility.

Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she covered her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.

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