No disrespect intended to Ashley Wagner, but Gracie Gold represents Team USA's only legitimate shot at a medal in the women's figure skating competition at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Both women did their part to help the United States win a bronze during the team competition—Wagner finished in fourth place in the short program with a score of 63.10, while Gold finished in second place in the free program, with Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia earning top marks in both.
With this in mind, it would be easy to assume both women have a shot to medal, but when looking at the loaded field for the individual competition, it's clear Gold is Team USA's only hope.
After the way Lipnitskaia has dominated thus far during the team events, she's one of the favorites to win gold in the individuals.
As Nancy Armour of USA Today Sports puts it: "With two mesmerizing performances in the team competition, the 15-year-old with the china doll face and old soul has captivated not only her country, but everyone watching the Sochi Olympics."
She's been the host nation's darling cover girl for good reason, and she's about to headline one of the most highly anticipated competitions of these Games.
The woman expected to give the hometown hero a run for her money is South Korea's Yuna Kim, who won gold four years ago in Vancouver. At 23 years old, Kim is already a two-time world champion, most recently in 2013 (London), and she won that competition by more than 20 points over Italy's Carolina Kostner.
Kim's passion for the sport is still as vibrant as ever as she attempts to repeat as Olympic champion.
“I love figure skating. It’s what I’m good at. That’s why I decided to come back," she said about returning to competition, as noted by Olympic.org. “The Olympics is the biggest competition for all athletes and an unforgettable event. I wanted to experience all that again.”
Japan’s Mao Asada will also be a major player in Sochi after winning silver four years ago behind Kim in Vancouver. She won bronze at the 2013 World Championships as well, and a podium finish isn't out of the question.
Nobody would be surprised if Lipnitskaia, Kim and Asada finished on the podium in any order, which means it's going to be tough for anyone to crack into medal contention. If an American is going to do it, however, then it's going to be Gold.
Wagner didn't even finish in the top three of the U.S. National Championships in Boston this January, making it onto the Olympic team because of her past successes while Mirai Nagasu missed the trip.
ESPN's Sarah Spain isn't sure Team USA made the right decision after Wagner's sloppy performance:
While I can't say I fully disagree with the decision to send Wagner to Sochi, you do have to wonder if Nagasu might have been the better choice. She was fourth at the 2010 Games as a 16-year-old and skated like a seasoned pro en route to third place Saturday night [during the U.S. National Championships].
Youngster Polina Edmunds finished in second behind Gold and will compete in Sochi, but she's not expected to contend for a medal.
This leaves Gold, and Gold alone, as America's only real hope of medaling in this event.
The 18-year-old skating phenom from Newton, Mass., appears to be up to the task, too. As NBC7 in San Diego pointed out, her score of 129.38 in the team free skate event during the first week in Sochi was her personal best:
It wasn't good enough to beat Lipnitskaia, however, and Gold wants more than just a bronze medal in the individual competition.
"Obviously [a gold medal is] everybody's dream," she said after her performance, via Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports. "I just need to focus on my performance. I have a chance to win two medals [team and individual], but we were just really looking to have [tonight's] kind of showing at these Olympics."
She'll certainly have her hands full measuring up to the world's elite figure skaters.
The women begin their quest for gold on Wednesday, Feb. 19, with the short program and then will finish up with the free program one day later to determine the medal winners.
If Gold can put together the performance of a lifetime, then she'll have a shot to bring home an Olympic medal for Team USA, but it won't be easy. The level of competition on the ice this year leaves no room for errors, and it'll take nothing less than perfection to win gold.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78.
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