BOSTON — With less than a month until the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, the U.S. women’s figure skating team has the daunting task of preparing not only for solo performances but for the first team competition in Olympic history.
Now that the U.S. National Championships are over, before Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds take center ice in Russia for the biggest competition of their lives, they will have to get back to training, planning their Olympic experiences and dealing with the inevitable wrath of the international media.
Historically, the ladies of the U.S. Olympic figure skating team are the media darlings of the games. If a U.S. skater wins the gold medal, she will most likely become a household name. (Think Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes and Kristi Yamaguchi.) Even if they don't medal, this is probably the most international attention that Gold, Wagner and Edmunds will ever face.
Wagner and Gold have long been crafting their Olympic storylines. Gold, a twin, has a name ripped from the sports headlines and a smile and wave fit for a teenage beauty queen.
Wagner, an army brat, is more the girl next door. She’s not afraid to throw away her talking points or mouth “I’m sorry” to the camera in the kiss and cry. Earlier this season, she spoke out against the anti-gay legislation in Russia when her teammates zipped their lips.
At 15, Edmunds is new to the game and soft-spoken but has caught up quickly. At nationals, she was already stressing her Russian heritage. Her mom and part-time coach, Nina Edmunds, was born there, and Polina can fully understand her mom and grandmother when they speak Russian.
Gold, who has previously been prone to nerves, said the prospect of more media attention doesn't faze her. "I don’t really have enough emotional energy to let it stress me out. It’s just answering the questions as they come," she said. But at her first Olympics with all eyes on her as the new reigning national champion, it’s hard to say if she can deliver.
In between interviews, it’s back to the grindstone for the team. While Wagner indicated that she would take some time off to be with her family, when she’s back on the ice, she may make major changes or even scrap her entire "Romeo and Juliet" long program choreographed by David Wilson. “I need to find a way that I make that long program something that I am head over heels in love with...Right now I'm very ambivalent,” she said.
Gold plans to get right back to work at the Toyota Center in Southern California with coach Frank Carroll. Previously, she was criticized for her level of artistry compared to her technical ability. At nationals this year, she debuted her short program to a piano concerto by Edvard Grieg and, for the first time, blew the field away with her newfound maturity. She does hope to work with choreographers Lori Nichol and Marina Zueva before or during the Olympics.
Edmunds, who has never skated before on the senior international circuit, will have to train to skate a free program that is approximately 30 seconds longer than what she was used to at the junior level. In terms of the added time, she said "...it's not going to be a huge deal."
When they head to the Olympics, Gold, Wagner and Edmunds have to be careful to conserve their energy for their performances. The ladies' portion of the new team competition starts the day after the opening ceremonies. With that in mind, it’s probably smarter to forgo marching with their fellow athletes prior to the event, as Michelle Kwan did in 1998. That being said, this could be the only Olympics for all three ladies, and they may regret missing out on the experience.
"I’m of course going to walk in the opening ceremonies," Gold said at press time. Wagner is a little less certain but conceded that marching "…has been my dream for a long time." Meanwhile, Edmunds said she "most likely" plans to march in the opening and closing ceremonies.
Between now and Sochi, the skaters are unlikely to train together with a team coach but should take the opportunity to bond whenever possible. Not only will they share a lifetime of memories as members of the 2014 team, but they could also push each other to skate better under pressure during the team event.
Gold is already fostering camaraderie and playing team captain. "I haven’t had a chance to talk to and know Polina as well as I have some of the other ladies, but Ashley is an amazing person and skater, and so is Polina," she said.
Jessica Reinis works for OutFrontCNN. You can follow her on Twitter @JessicaReinis. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.