Team USA enjoyed a surge in the Olympic medal standings Thursday at the Sochi Games. An impressive performance in men's slopestyle skiing highlighted a day filled with enthusiastic American efforts.
The men's hockey squad opened competition with a commanding victory, and Olympic veteran Noelle Pikus-Pace put herself in position to cap off a storied skeleton career with a visit to the podium.
Here's a rundown of several of the major American storylines that rose to the forefront during Day 6 in Sochi.
Biggest Headline: Men Sweep Inaugural Slopestyle Skiing Final
U.S. skiers took over the podium on Thursday. Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nicholas Goepper claimed medals as Americans owned the inaugural Olympic slopestyle ski competition.
Christensen claimed gold. Kenworthy and Goepper earned silver and bronze, respectively.
Fellow national teammate Bobby Brown also competed in the event final, which featured 12 total competitors and four U.S. representatives. He finished ninth overall.
The sweep pushed America's medal count to 12 and helped ring in a new Olympic event with resounding success.
Biggest Blowout: Men's Hockey Crushes Slovakia
America's top hockey stars had no trouble surging past Slovakia in the Group A opener. The U.S. claimed a 7-1 victory, starting its Olympic journey in dominant fashion.
Phil Kessel led all players with a goal and two assists. Team USA tied an Olympic record with six goals in the second period. The barrage of goals occurred in a span of 13 minutes, 51 seconds.
Slovakia tied the game at one goal apiece before the American outburst.
"It slapped us in the face and we said, 'We've got to get going or else this is going to be a highflying game,'" St. Louis Blues forward David Backes told Wall Street Journal reporter Sharon Terlep.
The resounding win propels the U.S. into a Saturday matchup against Russia.
According to CBSSports.com, the winner of USA-Russia is a virtual lock to win the group.
"It's going to be an incredible challenge for the U.S. but they'll be brimming with confidence after the way they dominated Slovakia," CBS hockey writer Brian Stubits posited. "The crowd is going to be loud and it won't be on America's side. It will be the game of the round-robin stage in these Olympics."
Biggest Bummer: Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe Fall Short
American speedskaters Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe entered the 1,000-meter race with high expectations. The duo was viewed as a legitimate threat to bring Olympic glory to Team USA.
Both skaters dominated World Cup competition leading up to the Sochi Games. However, they both emerged empty-handed Thursday, failing to land a medal.
Richardson finished in seventh place, while Bowe followed behind in eighth.
"We didn’t expect this coming in," U.S. sprint coach Ryan Shimabukuro told The Associated Press (h/t Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). "Always at the Olympics the competition is fierce but when you’re No. 1 and 2 coming into the world and you finish seventh and eighth... Absolutely, I’m disappointed. I’m upset. But I’m proud of the girls because they gave everything they had. It’s frustrating, to say the least.”
Biggest fall: Jeremy Abbott
Jeremy Abbott took a devastating tumble during the men's figure skating short program. The 28-year-old sprawled on the ice and came to a stop against the boards.
The fall silenced a normally enthusiastic crowd, which witnessed a surprisingly quick recovery for the American skater.
"First thing, I was in a lot of pain and I was laying there kind of shocked and I didn't know what to think," Abbott told Yahoo! Sports reporter Martin Rogers. "I was waiting for the music to stop. The audience was screaming and I was like, 'Forget it all, I am going to finish this program.'"
He ultimately finished 15th in the program, but showed resolve by rising above the chaotic moment and finishing his routine with grace.
Individual men's medals are awarded after free skate competition.
Setting the Stage: Noelle Pikus-Pace
The American skeleton star is in second place midway through competition, trailing only Lizzy Yarnold of Great Britain. Noelle Pikus-Pace is expected to retire following the Sochi Olympics, which makes Friday's upcoming final runs even more dramatic.
Teammate Katie Uhlaender is also in medal contention. The pressure is on Pikus-Pace to wrap things up with one final strong effort.
The Olympic veteran began the day with four more runs remaining in her career. The final two await on Friday with a medal on the line.
Most-needed victory: Women's curling
These Olympics haven't been kind the U.S. women's curling team so far, but Thursday brought a bright note to the experience. The Americans earned an 8-6 victory over Japan, snapping a four-match losing streak.
Team USA's next opponent, Denmark, is the only remaining winless team in the mix. They compete Friday, giving the U.S. an opportunity to turn a must-have victory into a win streak.
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