After the women's figure skating short program, the fight for the gold medal is wide open. With some strong performances in the free skate, the United States has a chance to come away with at least a medal and possibly more.
Obviously, there are some tough challengers in the way of a spot on the podium. Defending gold medalist Yuna Kim of South Korea set the bar high with her 74.92, a score that stood throughout the round. But, the lead is minimal with Russia's Adelina Sotnikova finishing with a 74.64 and Carolina Kostner of Italy managing a 74.12.
However, the American trio of competitors remain in contention, as noted by their teammate Jason Brown:
American ladies finish 4th (Gracie), 6th (Ashley), 7th (Polina)!!!! So proud of these girls!! Long tomorrow night! #TeamUSA— Jason Brown (@jasonbskates) February 19, 2014
Here is a full look at the top athletes after the free skate, courtesy of Sochi2014.com:
|1||Kim Yuna||South Korea||74.92|
|4||Gracie Gold||United States||68.63|
|6||Ashley Wagner||United States||65.21|
|7||Polina Edmunds||United States||61.04|
|9||Mae Berenice Meite||France||58.63|
It will not be easy for any of the Americans to medal, but they each have a shot. Here is a look at the chances for each heading into the final day of competition.
Not only does Polina Edmunds have the worst chance to get a medal based on her current standing, but she was a long shot before the event began.
The 15-year-old skater does not have the experience of most of her competition, and it would not be surprising to see this become a problem on the big stage. However, commentator and former Olympic champion Tara Lipinski was impressed by Edmunds' composure:
Edmunds made almost no mistakes in her short program, earning a career-best score of 61.04 to keep her within striking distance of the bronze medal. Unfortunately, she is simply not technically strong enough to keep up with the rest of the skaters going forward.
Even at her best, the score would likely fall short of even an average long program from the leaders. The goal at this point should be to remain where she is, according to Mark Purdy of the Mercury News:
Short program complete, Polina Edmunds in 7th place. Long program Thursday. Brian Boitano told me top 7 would be "fantastic" result for her.— Mark Purdy (@MercPurdy) February 19, 2014
If she can manage that, Edmunds would prove that she can be a contender going forward and a legitimate threat for the 2018 Olympics.
For the second time in a row, Ashley Wagner was not satisfied with her scoring on the short program.
The first issue came during the team competition when she received a 63.10. While her numbers improved slightly, Nick McCarvel of NBC Olympics notes that Wagner was still unhappy:
Wagner scores a 65.21 to put her in fifth behind Lipnitskaya. Pointing at board, unhappy with score and can't hide it #Sochi2014— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) February 19, 2014
In reality, it was just a couple of slight slips on her landings that cost her some points compared to her top competitors. Other than that, it was a solid showing worthy of one of the best scores in Sochi.
The problem heading into the free skate is the competition ahead of her. Not only does she have nine points to make up on the top-three skaters, but she will also start the day behind Julia Lipnitskaia, a top contender for a gold coming into the week.
Lipnitskaia posted the highest scores in both the short and long programs during the team competition and became a fan favorite in Sochi. However, the 15-year-old Russian fell in her short program, dropping her to fifth overall.
If Lipnitskaia can struggle and still have a better day than Wagner, though, it does not leave much hope for the next round.
The good news is that Wagner seems ready to compete without pressure. She told Liz Clarke of the Washington Post:
At the end of the day, I have been here for so long that it’s not that the Olympics are any less glamorous to me — but I’m used to it now. I feel I’m more settled. My dream has already pretty much been accomplished, so this is really more about me going out and skating than focusing on competing or being nervous.
A carefree skate with perfect landings could get her in the running, but a medal might be too much to hope for at this stage.
The United States champion is clearly the country's best option to get onto the podium after finishing the short program in fourth place. The problem is that there is a significant gap between fourth and third.
Gracie Gold earned a score of 68.63, which was short of her personal best of 69.45. She appeared nervous in her routine, and she admitted it afterwards to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated:
Gracie Gold on her nerves tonight: ""I was definitely nervous before and felt sick to my stomach. I had to refocus and stick to my job."— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) February 19, 2014
On the other hand, Christine Brennan of USA Today points out that things could have been worse:
Gracie Gold seriously saves the triple lutz in the air, then lands triple toe. Good for her.— Christine Brennan (@cbrennansports) February 19, 2014
This all means that despite the issues, Gold can be even better than what she showed on Wednesday. She put forth the second-best score in the free skate during team competition, and we saw what she was capable of at the U.S. Championships a month ago. If she performs to her ability, she can catch the rest of the pack.
Of course, it will still likely take some mistakes from those above her in the standings to provide a chance to medal. Fortunately, we saw with the men's program that this could happen to even the best in the world. As McCarvel described it:
It was one of the most dramatic finishes to an Olympic figure skating event in the recent past, but not because of its quality: Fall after fall, tentative edge after botched combination, the men’s free skate played out like a scratched CD that no one could hit the “next” button on, lurching and dragging the crowd through 45 minutes of athletic melodrama.
A similar situation could play out in this event, giving Gold a decent chance to at least medal. After the United States' ladies failed to get any medals in 2010, this would be a solid finish for the team.
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