The first action of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi wrapped up on Thursday, just one day prior to the opening ceremony. Now, with a one-day break before the action continues, every country will take a step back and reflect upon how they fared and what they can do to improve their standing.
On Thursday, figure skating, freestyle skiing and snowboarding were on display. After the qualifying rounds, there are a handful of teams that stand above the rest; however, plenty more are still well in the mix.
Let's take a closer look at how things stand after Thursday's activities and determine which countries are in the driver's seat going forward.
During the men's short program in the team competition, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan really stole the show. Scoring a 97.98, he was absolutely the most polished skater on Thursday. Hometown hero Yevgeny Plushenko of Russia finished a close second with a score of 91.39. As for the U.S., Jeremy Abbott had a poor showing and finished seventh with a score of 65.65.
Although Japan fared well in the men's short-program event, their skaters were not able to duplicate their success in the pairs' short program, finishing eighth with a score of 46.56. However, Russia was able to hold strong once again, finishing first with a score of 83.79. The U.S. finished fifth with a score of 64.25.
After two events in the team competition, the U.S. is tied for fifth with 10 points. Russia currently holds the lead with 19 points, followed by Canada with 17 points.
There are still seven events before Sunday's medal ceremony, and these teams will continue to fight for position. Even though the U.S. did not fare well on Thursday, it has a strong chance to climb into the top three and earn a medal in the team event. However, it will be Russia's strong corps of skaters who will continue to make them the team to beat.
The ladies' moguls event was full of highly contested action on Thursday. Defending Olympic gold medalist Hannah Kearney of Team USA posted the best score with a 23.05. However, she is closely followed by Canadian sisters—Chloe Dufour-Lapointe (22.64) and Justine Dufour-Lapointe (22.28).
It's good for us. I can say quite confidently that we're the most fit, strongest team out there.... We're as prepared as possible to handle several days of competition in a row.
Also, being veterans is helpful because you learn to just go with the flow. It's peculiar that the very first time we try a format is on such a grand stage. But I don't think it will have a negative effect.
Kearney is heavily favored to repeat as champion; however, she will have her hands full with the Dufour-Lapointe sisters nipping at her heels. One thing is for certain: This event with surely bring a fantastic finish to Sochi.
During the second run of the men's slopestyle event, Canadian Maxence Parrot put on quite a spectacle, earning a score of 97.5—just 2.5 points short of a perfect score. He really appears to be the favorite in this event—especially after Team USA snowboarder Shaun White pulled out.
After his runs, Parrot spoke with ESPN.com and relayed his confidence: "Other riders complained about the course this week. I actually found it really good from Day 1 to now."
Of the two runs, eight riders were able to finish with a score of 90.0 or better. The U.S. will have their work cut out for them, as Charles Guldemond, Sage Kotsenburg and Ryan Stassel finished with scores of 86.00, 86.50 and 81.00, respectively.
It just doesn't seem like Team USA has what it takes to medal in this event with so much talent on display from other countries.
Despite the disappointing performances by U.S. riders, rest assured that the remaining top-tier athletes in Sochi will keep this event very competitive down to the bitter end.
The ladies' slopestyle event remains just as competitive. Fortunately for the U.S., talented rider Jamie Anderson is well in the mix after scoring a 93.50 in her lone run on Thursday.
Anderson shared her experience so far in Sochi with ESPN: "It's a challenging course. A lot of impact for everyone. Little 15-year-olds are like, 'I'm not even old and my back is still sore every day. Not even from crashing, just from riding.'"
The only rider ahead of Anderson at this time is Austrian Anna Gasser, who put together a solid 95.50 on Thursday. The two aforementioned athletes were the only two to score in the 90s during the qualifying round.
Anderson was a little banged up heading into Thursday's qualifying round. She is very capable of putting together multiple top-notch performances, and she could certainly overtake Gasser when healthy. These two will absolutely continue to put on a show for everyone watching.
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