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Olympic Figure Skating 2014: Top Storylines to Watch After Opening Day

Japan's Asada Mao skates at the figure stating practice rink ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press
Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

Figure skating kicked things off at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia on Feb. 6, and the somewhat shocking results have done much to hint at how the rest of the competition could play out.

Russia was the story of the day, as the country's athletes performed well in front of a friendly crowd. Yevgeny Plushenko (91.39) came in second in the men's short program, second only to a jaw-dropping performance by Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu (97.98).

In the team pairs short program, it was the duo of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (83.79) that set the pace by scoring better than all other teams by more than 10 points.

While a big start for the sport overall, the action on the ice is still in its infancy. The same goes for budding storylines fans should monitor.

Note: All info courtesy of NBC Olympics unless noted otherwise.

 

Will the U.S. Recover?

Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Historically, the United States leads the pack in terms of overall medal count in the sport.

This time, it currently sits in seventh place after a miserable outing on opening day. The lowlight belonged to Jeremy Abbott, who scored a 65.65 to finish seventh and hurt the team's chances, as NBC illustrates:

Christine Brennan of USA Today captured and reacted to Abbott's performance:

Now the Americans must pray they can put together strong enough performances to pull into the top five to even participate in the finals.

That hope will likely fall on the shoulders of Charlie White and Meryl Davis, who will represent the team in the ice dance event. White and Davis are favorites for gold after reeling in silver medals in Vancouver, but this time they are not just here to soak up the experience, as Davis told Kyle Austin of Mlive.com:

This time, I think we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves in terms of performance. And just performing the way we’ve been practicing, performing the way we’ve really set the bar for ourselves to perform. It’s definitely a different approach this time around.

Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner also have shots at medals, but the overall outlook is bleak after a rough start to the Games. Gold is just 18 years old and Wagner is in a slump that saw her finish fourth in nationals recently before being selected anyway thanks to her past success on an international scale.

 

Can Japan Keep Pace?

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 06:  Figure skater Mao Asada of Japan practices at the Iceberg Skating Palace on February 6, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Japan has quite the head start after one day thanks to the stunning performance from the 19-year-old Hanyu. The near-perfect performance gave Japan a much needed 10 points and the country sits in fourth in the team competition.

Yuzuru Hanyu
Yuzuru HanyuPool/Getty Images

It was not all great news for Japan on opening day, however, as Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara combined for a score of 46.56 in team pairs to score just three points.

If it is going to keep pace, Japan will look to Mao Asada for a big performance in the ladies' competition.

Asada won silver in Vancouver, and is one of the sport's most recognizable figures thanks to her double toe loop combination. She is back and motivated for gold this time around, via Jere Longman of The New York Times:

The silver medal was nice, but my jumps were falling apart. There was a time when I just couldn’t forgive myself. Obviously a lot of people would be happy to have a silver medal in the Olympics. But that season, most of the jumps I couldn’t do. I wasn’t happy about it. That’s why I came back, to be perfect for myself, the jumps and everything.

Japan is certainly a contender thanks to strong support, but like most countries in the running, its overall efforts may pale in comparison to the start the Russians had in their homeland through one day.

Asada has more pressure than ever on her shoulders to perform at a high level. Should she deliver, Japan will remain a contender in the event in Sochi.

 

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