Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay Are Viable Medal Contenders for USA

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2014

Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay compete during the pairs free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The international record of Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay may not lead you to believe that they are viable medal contenders at the 22nd Winter Olympics in Sochi, but that is exactly what they are for the United States. 

Zhang, 20, and Bartholomay, 24, have skated their best when they are under pressure, as shown by their performances at the last two United States Figure Skating Championships. 

After finishing eighth in their first year together at the 2012 U.S. Championships, Zhang and Bartholomay made a massive improvement by ending up in third in 2013 and then second in the most recent championships in Boston in January. 

The duo did well enough in Boston during their free skate to beat out eventual first-place finishers Simon Shnapir and Marissa Castelli by three whole points.

However, they were less than a full point behind the pair of Caydee Denney and John Coughlin for the best score in the free skate.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

With the knowledge of that defeat in the free skate still in their minds, Zhang and Bartholomay have a chance to make up for that disappointment and achieve a goal of having an even stronger free-skate program in Sochi. 

The pair can also bank off of their international experience in the Four Continents Championships that pits skaters from outside Europe against each other in competition. Zhang and Bartholomay finished in fourth place at the 2013 edition of the Four Continents in Osaka, Japan. 

Besides that and two high placings at the U.S. Championships, the pair have not delivered a significant result, which is why there are plenty of skeptics circling their potential medal contention. 

But what better place for Zhang and Bartholomay to prove the critics wrong than in Sochi where the entire world will be watching. 

The pressure of delivering a medal for the United States will not be positioned squarely on their shoulders as Castelli and Shnapir will gain that burden.

Other competitors in the pairs discipline will also be taking on pressure from their homeland, as the Russian duos of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov and Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov will look to impress in front of their home crowds. 

As we know from any massive sporting event, the expectation is greater on athletes of the host country because there is an immense amount of national pride on the line.

If the two Russian pairs fail to succeed in Sochi, it will be because of the pressure on their shoulders from the home crowd and from other competitors. 

There is no doubt that there is a bit of a skating rivalry between the United States and Russia, and if the Russian pairs lose out to the American pairs, it will be seen as a huge moral and literal victory for U.S. figure skating. 

By not having a ridiculous amount of pressure on them to medal, Zhang and Bartholomay can skate relaxed and potentially draw more attention by capturing one of the three coveted positions on the medal podium. 

If everything works in their favor, including a flawless two nights of skating, we could be mentioning their names as two of the "most valuable" Olympians for Team USA when the final medal count is released.