SOCHI, Russia — Meryl Davis and Charlie White comforted and cheered their fellow Americans on a tough first night of competition for the U.S. in the new Olympic event of team figure skating.
Nice to have their support, no doubt. But the biggest pick-me-up they can provide? Two dazzling performances in ice dancing.
The United States team was tied for the fifth-most points after the Thursday short programs for the men and pairs, technically resting in seventh after tiebreakers among 10 nations.
Only the top five countries advance to the free skates, a cut made after the women and ice dancers complete their short programs. But the Americans are hardly in a precarious position, because they boast the reigning world ice dancing champs in Davis and White.
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Russia leads with 19 points, and the other favorite, Canada, has 17. The U.S. earned just 10 on Thursday, but has better balance then most of the squads ahead of it and two wins from its ice dancers would be worth 20 points.
Still, after the falls and botched jumps from U.S. champions Jeremy Abbott and the pairs team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, bronze may be the team’s best hope.
For Abbott, it was yet another rocky performance at a major international event. A four-time U.S. champ, he has never captured that magic on the biggest of stages. Before the 2010 Olympics, he beat Evan Lysacek at nationals, only to finish ninth in Vancouver while his compatriot won gold.
Thursday’s short program looked a lot like his first outing at the games four years ago, with Abbott crashing into the boards after falling on his opening quad jump. Yet he insisted this was different.
He dubbed the team event a “run through.” Afterward, he said he told himself: “All right, I had my Olympic disaster, and now I can move on and do what I came here to do.”
That’s the individual event, which starts next Thursday.
“I really wanted to pull out a win for my friends and for my family. That was very important to me. I’m torn apart I couldn’t do that for them,” he said. “But for me, I feel like it was a very positive step. You’re all going to think I’m crazy. I just fell on my butt and did a horrible program. But I have another chance next week.”
Abbott finished with 65.65 points, seventh among the men, after managing only a single axel on a planned triple.
Two-time U.S. champ Ashley Wagner plans to do the short program Saturday, though she’s coming off a mistake-marred free skate of her own at nationals. The pairs free skate is also Saturday. The event wraps up Sunday with the men’s, women’s and ice dance long programs.
Castelli and Shnapir, in their first Olympics, were fifth among the pairs with a personal-best 64.25 points in an international event. Castelli fell and Shnapir put his hand down on their side-by-side triple salchows, but they were solid enough overall to solidify the Americans’ spot in the standings after Abbott’s scuffles.
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — In snowboarding, it is extremely difficult to be the defending Olympic gold medalist in halfpipe and hold similar expectations in slopestyle. Shaun White knows this better than anyone — almost.
Torah Bright of Australia won a halfpipe gold medal four years ago in Vancouver, too. But rather than drop out of this year’s slopestyle event, which White did the day before the competition, she went out and finished second in slopestyle qualifying, earning a spot in the women’s final Sunday.
And next week, after the halfpipe competition, Bright will compete in snowboard cross, making her the sport’s lone triple threat.
“I’m not focusing on the result or medals,” Bright said, sounding like the anti-White. “I’m just here to focus on snowboarding, the sport I love.”
The Winter Olympics began under bright sunshine against the snow-covered Caucasus Mountains, with a procession of snowboarders sliding and flying down a series of obstacles and jumps in the new event of slopestyle.
The tall, spindly bleachers at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park were mostly empty when Billy Morgan of Britain became the first competitor of the Winter Games. The public-address announcers described the action in English, the language of snowboarding but one that most home fans could not understand. Those who gathered gave the heartiest cheers to a Russian competitor, Alexey Sobolev, who finished 10th.
The fans might not have noticed the absence of White, the famous American. But his announcement about 18 hours earlier that he would drop out of slopestyle to focus exclusively on his quest to win a third consecutive gold medal in the halfpipe reverberated through the competition.
“He’s a big star,” said Staale Sandbech of Norway, one of eight men to advance to the men’s final Saturday. “Hopefully we don’t end up with a guy who wins and everybody says, ‘Ah, but Shaun wasn’t there.’ That would be the sad part.”
White said he dropped out because of concerns about the slopestyle course, afraid an injury could derail his halfpipe ambitions next week. But he was not considered a medal favorite in the event, leading a pair of highly ranked Canadians to suggest on Twitter that White was scared of not winning.
KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Bode Miller is at his fifth Olympics and already owns a U.S.-record five alpine medals, so in many ways he certainly already has, as he put it, “been here and done this.”
While Miller’s past accomplishments, plus propensity for saying whatever is on his mind, might have made him an athlete to keep an eye on during the Sochi Games anyway, his skiing still can grab headlines. Miller delivered the fastest opening downhill training run ahead of Sunday’s race, finishing in 2 minutes, 7.75 seconds.
“He’s been fast this whole season, but especially these last three weeks,” said Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who tied for eighth in training and, like Miller, won a medal of each color at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. “And this is also a course that should be good for him. So I’m not surprised.”
The women’s downhill training was interrupted for about an hour while the lip of a dangerous jump was flattened by machines. Only three racers went down the hill before the delay.
• Hannah Kearney, the defending gold medalist in women’s moguls, easily topped qualifying. The 27-year-old from New Hampshire posted a score of 23.05 to move into Saturday’s finals and move one step closer to bookending the gold she won in Vancouver four years ago.
• Vancouver Canucks star Henrik Sedin pulled out of the Sochi Olympics, saying he’s physically unable to play for Sweden.
• Saying he was “extremely disappointed,” Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Marian Gaborik had to withdraw from the Slovakian Olympic team because he is not fully recovered from a broken collarbone.
• Canada’s Olympic hockey team picked Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis for its roster for the Sochi Games to replace injured center Steven Stamkos. also a member of the Lightning.