SOCHI, Russia—The first Olympic team medals in figure-skating will be awarded Sunday night at Sochi’s Iceberg Skating Palace, where the U.S. sits a distant third when the final phase of the competition gets under way at 7 p.m. local time (10 a.m. ET).
Russia leads with 47 points, followed by Canada (46) and the U.S. (34). That’s a staggering amount of ground for the U.S. to make up in just three free-skates—men’s, women’s and ice dance—particularly when the biggest swing in any single event is four points. (Skaters get 10 points for finishing first; nine for finishing second; eight for third; seven for fourth; and six for fifth).
So if the U.S. can’t overtake Canada for silver, it surely wants to prevent Italy (31) and Japan (30) for bumping it off the medal stand.
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Let’s meet the four U.S. skaters charged with the task:
Jason Brown, 19: His is the ponytail tweeted ’round the world. Reared in Highland Park, Ill., Brown has had a totally unexpected, totally delightful surge to prominence this season, winning over judges and crowds with his exuberant showmanship and heartfelt humility. He’ll perform a “Riverdance”-inspired program that catapulted him to silver at U.S. championships last months and got 3 million YouTube hits. Perhaps the most grateful and giddy Olympian in history, Brown has tweeted (@Jasonbskates) joyful photos of the day he was issued his Team USA gear, the view from the airplane on descent into Sochi, his first practice at the Olympic rink, his awe at meeting Apolo Anton Ohno, his glee posing for a snap with Shaun White and his euphoria at Opening Ceremonies. Admirers have launched a Twitter account for his ponytail (@2014PonyPower).
Gracie Gold, 18: Hers is the name perfectly suited for the Olympic podium. Like Brown, she was reared in the Chicago-area and has developed rapidly this past season. Credit her work these past six months with figure-skating’s legendary Frank Carroll, mentor to two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan and coach of defending Olympic men’s champion Evan Lysacek, who is unable to compete in Sochi because of injury. Under Carroll, Gold has learned to compete with more consistency, and the result was on sparkling display at U.S. Championships, where she nailed both her short and long programs. She’ll skate to Tchaikovsky “Sleeping Beauty.”
Meryl Davis, 27, and Charlie White, 26: They are the elegant and invaluable anchor of the U.S. team. Reigning world champions and 2010 Olympic silver medalists, Davis and White were the only U.S. skaters to earn a maximum 10 points for the U.S. during the team event’s short program. They’ll do double-duty tonight, closing the competition as the last dance couple up in the final event. Their music is “Scheherazade,’ by Rimsky-Korsakov. And even if they finish first, as expected, it may represent just a one-point swing in the standings, given the strength of their chief rivals: Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the defending Olympic champions.