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Sochi Express: 15 Figure Skaters join Team USA ‘s ride to the Winter Olympics

Ashley Wagner slips onto Team USA for Sochi Olympics
Ashley Wagner slips onto Team USA for Sochi Olympics
Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

In a weekend where emotion and controversy swirled, 15 athletes qualified for the 2014 Winter Olympics by defeating the odds at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, MA.

Drama and tension rippled through the senior competition ranks where Olympic dreams were on the line. Both Olympic veterans and newcomers punched their tickets to the Sochi Olympics based on their top finishes, with one unusual exception within the Ladies ranks.

Leading the American contingent on this “Sochi Express,” Vancouver 2010 Olympics silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their sixth straight U.S. championship Dance title on Saturday. They will be joined by two other promising couples, runner-up Madison Chock and Evan Bates, as well as siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, who filled the two remaining Team USA quota spots.

White said, “Obviously we’re going into these Games with very high expectations. We’ve had a lot of great momentum over the last four years since the 2010 Olympics and we think we’ve put ourselves in a great position to bring home a gold medal.”

Jeremy Abbott, ninth place finisher in Vancouver, returns with hopes to duplicate the Vancouver gold medal win by Evan Lysacek, who withdrew a month ago due to a nagging hip injury.

Riding the high from his record-setting 99.86 short program performance, which featured a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, the 28-year-old Abbott defeated the field with a stirring free-skate performance on Sunday.

“I’m really, really excited to go to Sochi. I’m proud to be representing the United States,” said Abbott who won his fourth U.S. championship

Yet, highlighting the show was 19-year-old Jeremy Brown who stole the hearts of a packed arena by winning the free-skate component, and besting Max Aaron, the defending U.S. champion.

In Saturday’s Pairs competition, a hometown couple tugged at the heartstrings of the Beantown audience. Despite finishing third in the free-skate, Marissa Castelli (Sudbury, MA) and Simon Shnapir (Cranston, RI) relied on their strong short program to seal the deal for the Sochi Olympics.

“Simon and I are speechless. This is one of the happiest days of our lives. We’ve worked so hard for the last eight years together and it really paid off. We’re so excited to go to Sochi. We’re thrilled,” Castelli said.

Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, the 2013 Championships bronze medalist secured the other Pairs seat on this Sochi Express train with their second place finish - just edging Vancouver Olympian Caydee Dundee and her partner John Coughlin.by a .29 margin.

U.S. Figure Skating nominated all of these top performers to the United States Olympics Committee. However, the decision on the women’s contingent relied on a selection provision where previous results could also be considered.

The 2013 Championships silver medalist Gracie Gold swept the field by winning both the short and free skate components.

I’m so excited to be going to Sochi representing the United States. The Olympics aren’t just another competition, it’s the ultimate dream. It’s a life experience that I’ll never forget and I’m so excited to be going,” said the 18-year-old Gold.

Rising out of the junior ranks was 15-year-old underdog Paulina Edmunds who notched runner-up scores in both programs, and she too received the federation’s nod.

Mirai Nigasu, who just missed winning a medal at the Vancouver Olympics, skated to the podium by finishing third on Thursday and Saturday.

But her elation at the opportunity to contend for another Olympics medal was upended by the Federation’s decision to honor fourth place Ashley Wagner instead, despite her shaky performance, for the final Team USA slot.

While considering Wagner’s stellar international competition finishes in recent years, the selection committee relied on this additional criteria that rests on overall experience, and competition successes.

I’m at a loss for words right now. It’s been a really rough four years and I’ve been working really hard. I’m happy that my federation was able to see beyond one bad skate and I can’t believe that I’m going to be able to represent the United States in Sochi,” said the 22-year-old.

Nigasu, who was reported to be filing an appeal, has resigned herself to being the squad’s alternate. "I'm disappointed in the decision," she said. "Though I may not agree with it, I have to respect the decision the federation made.

With just one month before the start of the Sochi Olympics, over a hundred remaining spots remain on the Sochi Express for Team USA. Subscribe to all my articles to see who will fulfill their childhood dreams!