Although pairs skaters Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir tried to mitigate the damage, a poor short program by U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott during the first round of the 2014 Olympic figure skating team event on Feb. 6 landed the nation in an unexpected place: tied with two other teams with just 10 cumulative points, and in serious danger of not advancing to the finals.
Abbott crumbled early on in his program, finishing a dismal seventh and starting the U.S. team off with just four points.
Castelli and Shnapir, who successfully defended their own national title in January, competed in the pairs event and wound up placing a respectable fifth with a mark of 64.25. The competition was dominated by Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (83.79), whose high-flying program bested that of second-place finishers Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (73.10) of Canada by more than 10 points.
Entering the short ice dance and women's short programs, which are scheduled for Feb. 8, team Russia leads the pack with 19 points. Canada follows with 17, while China sits in third place with 15. The team from Japan sits in fourth with 13 points on the strength of a 10-point skate by Yuzuru Hanyu. Three teams, including Germany, France and the United States, have 10 points, while Italy has eight. Ukraine and Great Britain bring up the rear with five and three points, respectively.
Since only the top five teams will advance to the free skate portion of the competition, team USA will have a lot of recovery work to do when the women and ice dancers take to the ice on Feb. 8. World, national and Grand Prix Final champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White should be up to the task, but a cloud of mystery surrounds former U.S. champ Ashley Wagner, who was initially chosen to skate the short program. Given her poor performance at nationals in January, she could well be replaced by the of-late more consistent Gracie Gold.