This year's Olympic Games feature a new component to the figure skating portion. The individualistic event will now offer a team tilt, giving the United States women another chance to earn a spot on the podium.
Conveniently enough, the hosting nation is the heavy favorite to take gold in the newly instituted competition. After starting strong during the opening day, Russia looks poised to vie for team gold in Sochi.
But the U.S. competitors are not backing down. No woman has claimed a first-place finish since Sarah Hughes' improbable victory in 2002, but none of them had the team portal to turn to. Ashley Wagner told the New York Daily News' Filip Bondy that the U.S. should be considered one of the top dogs in team play.
"The United States is a very strong team," Wagner said. "Absolutely hands down, I think the U.S. is one of the front-runners for a medal in the team event."
Wagner and the rest of the country's top female skaters will have to back up that sentiment during the 2014 Winter Olympics. After a lackluster showing from Jeremy Abbott in the men's short program, it's up to the women to pick up the slack and redeem his seventh-place showing.
In addition to stamping the U.S. as a top team, Wagner also faces the pressure of proving she belongs in Sochi.
Despite stumbling twice during her routine and finishing fourth in the U.S. National Championships, Wagner will still represent the U.S. in Sochi. A repeat performance would dash her Olympic dreams, as well as those of Team USA.
The Washington Post's Liz Clarke asserted the hopes of an entire nation firmly on Wagner's shoulders:
Here at the Sochi Olympics, it looks increasingly as if the full weight of the United States clinching a spot in the medal round of figure’s skating team event will land on Wagner’s shoulders.
Wagner, 22, was announced Friday morning as the U.S. team’s choice to perform her short program when the competition in the team event resumes Saturday at the Iceberg Skating Palace, after the Sochi Games pauses for the Opening Ceremonies.
Wagner has proved capable before, claiming the U.S. national title in 2012 and 2013. For the U.S. to have a shot, she'll need to bring her A-game.
The baby of the group, 18-year-old Gracie Gold is quickly emerging as this year's Olympic breakout star.
She made a round of media appearances to steal hearts across the nation, even appearing on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to show off her juggling skills.
More importantly, she's the 2014 national champion who can become the country's face of figure skating with a strong showing.
With Yuna Kim, Mao Asada and Julia Lipnitskaia all in her way, Gold may struggle to live up to her last name. But don't discount her chances to earning a spot on the podium while keeping the team near the top of the leaderboard.
Meryl Davis makes one half of a team that stands as the nation's biggest asset.
Davis and Charlie White have won two world championships together, and they took home silver in Vancouver four years ago. They're the United States' best chance at reeling in another medal, and they'll need a strong showing in the short dance on Saturday to keep the team's aspirations afloat.
Davis and White have worked together for 17 years, giving them a palpable chemistry that makes them one of the strongest figure skating duos ever. The only downside to their greatness if the lofted expectations for them to come through in Sochi.
According to NBCOlympics.com's Joe Posnanski, Davis isn't worried about any outside pressure.
“We really truly have put a significant amount of pressure on ourselves as it compares to the pressure from any outside source," Davis said.
In that case, there's no need to feel guilty about rehashing just how important Davis and White are to the United States' success during the Sochi Games.