The U.S. pairs teams are no longer even thinking about winning medals. They're more worried about being able to field pairs teams at future world championships.

Entering tonight's finals, the U.S. teams are in 11th, 13th and 14th place. If the standings remain the same at the end of the event, the United States will only be able to send two teams to the 2004 world championships. To keep three teams, two couples must finish at least sixth and seventh.

To get an idea of how much of a struggle these world championships have been, the U.S. champions, Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn, are in 13th -- behind national bronze medalists Rena Inoue and John Baldwin Jr., who are making their first trip to worlds together.

The United States is in jeopardy of having its worst showing in pairs at the world championships. Since 1928, the top-placing U.S. team has never finished lower than 10th.

Scott and Dulebohn, who placed seventh at worlds last year, had to battle in the short program Monday night. The most costly error was Dulebohn's stepping out of a triple toe loop. They hope to recover in the long, especially since Dulebohn, a Silver Spring native, will have plenty of family and friends watching at MCI Center.

"We're all human," said Karl Kurtz, who coaches Scott and Dulebohn in Newark, Del. "That's why this is a sport. They made one mistake and that can happen sometimes.

"It was their opening element but they kept competing and kept going. The one thing is that they can't dwell on this. Part of being an athlete and being in sports is that you can't give up."

Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman, the three-time national champions who left the eligible ranks at the end of last season, were the 2002 world bronze medalists. Ina and Zimmerman now tour with Stars on Ice. Their absence has been noticed.

This year, two of the three U.S. teams are making their worlds debut: Inoue and Baldwin and Kathryn Orscher and Garrett Lucash. Being new to the international scene can be difficult. The general rule of thumb is that the more international judges who see a team, the better. Inoue and Baldwin hope to make a splash by becoming the first pairs team to perform side-by-side triple lutzes.

For Orscher and Lucash to be competing at worlds is a feat in itself. The couple has only trained together about two years, and Orscher never skated pairs before that. This week, they are skating against the world's best, including reigning Russian champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin and China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo.

"We've always watched it on TV before," Lucash said. "Now we're behind the scenes."

When asked about their goals at worlds, Orscher and Lucash did not mention a particular placement. Instead, their goal was to keep three spots for the United States.

"I just want to help the U.S.," Orscher said, "so we have three teams going to the Olympics in 2006."

As for Orscher and Lucash, competing at worlds is a new experience for Baldwin, especially since he normally takes a two-month break from skating following nationals. Inoue is a two-time Olympian from Japan in both singles and pairs.

"Usually around now I'm selling cars, working around the house or going to Vegas," Baldwin said. "This is all very exciting for me, but it's definitely new for me to be skating through March and April. This schedule is really tough."

This year, Inoue and Baldwin, who train in southern California, expect to have their vacation time cut short to about two weeks.

"Vegas will still be there when I get back," said Baldwin.

U.S. champs Tiffany Scott, Philip Dulebohn are in 13th place. Other U.S. teams are 11th, 14th. If standings remain, U.S. will only be able to send 2 pairs teams to 2004 worlds instead of 3.