Sometimes your best isn't good enough, and in order to win, you've got to count on the competition messing up.
That's the position Team USA is in as it heads into women's figure skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The field is loaded this year, and there's a good chance the United States will make it two Olympics in a row that an American female has failed to medal in figure skating.
Jane McManus and Melissa Isaacson posited the question on espnW as to whether the U.S. would win an individual medal in figure skating. Isaacson argued yes, while McManus took the opposite view.
Both agreed that the best hopes for the Americans will no doubt be Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, but they're far from the best in the world, per McManus:
South Korea's Kim Yu-Na crushed the competition at worlds, scoring 218.31 points, 20 more than silver medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy. Mao Asada of Japan plans to retire after the 2014 Games, offering additional incentive to her and teammate Kanako Murakami, who finished fourth at worlds. Kim and Asada also won gold and silver, respectively, at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Coming in, these always looked to be the stakes.
Yuna Kim is the reigning Olympic champion and has a gold at the 2013 World Championships to her name. Mao Asada won silver in Vancouver and bronze at the 2013 World Championships. Carolina Kostner was the back-to-back European champion in 2012 and 2013, in addition to a gold in 2012 and silver in 2013 at the World Championships. Julia Lipnitskaia, only 15 years old, already has a 2014 European Championship gold medal to her credit.
In order to medal, Wagner and/or Gold will have to go through any combination of those four stars.
As to whether that can happen, the results have been mixed going off the team event. Gracie Gold placed second in the free program to Julia Lipnitskaia, while Wagner was fourth in the short program to Lipnitskaia, Kostner and Asada.
If anything, the short program demonstrated just how high of an uphill climb it will be for the Americans in Sochi.
Wagner had what was an impressive program. She didn't fall, and she hit all of the requisite moves to earn a solid score.
And yet, she still found herself in fourth place, behind Asada, despite Asada falling during her routine.
The photo of her reaction after the score was announced has already become one of the lasting images of the Winter Olympics.
Needless to say, Wagner wasn't happy with her score, per Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports.
"I know roughly when I skate a good program where the score should end up," she said. "So to score that low was very disappointing. "I was hoping to score around somewhere close to my personal best (69.26)."
Wagner will have to take more risks when she takes the ice again, because even her personal best isn't all that impressive when compared to the likes of Kim, Asada, Kostner and Lipnitskaia.
Gold's performance is a bit misleading, as she didn't compete against either Kostner or Asada and lost to Lipnitskaia by over 12 points.
Although she has a gold at the 2014 U.S. Championships and silver in 2013 to her credit, Gold is still unproven on the world stage.
But between Gold and Wagner, the former is arguably the better bet to get onto the podium. Gold has the higher ceiling and more unpredictability. She was magical in Boston a month ago, and she'll need to bring that into Sochi to have any chance.
It's not impossible for either Gold or Wagner (or both) to medal in Sochi. In order for it to happen, though, they'll need to be perfect. And from there, they'll likely need a helping hand from the competition.
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