The United States is no longer a figure skating power.
Other than the dynamic ice dance duo of Charlie White and Meryl Davis, who won gold in their event and helped propel the U.S. to bronze in the team event, there is no American who is capable of winning an individual event.
Two medals. Russia? 5. Canada? 3. Only one American male cracked the top 10 in the free skating program.
Ashley Wagner, who finished seventh in the ladies' competition, slammed the judges, telling Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports:
I feel gypped. People don't want to watch a sport where you see people fall down and somehow score above someone who goes clean. It is confusing and we need to make it clear for you.
To be completely honest, this sport needs fans and needs people who want to watch it. People do not want to watch a sport where they see someone skate lights out and they can't depend on that person to be the one who pulls through. People need to be held accountable.
Maybe there's a shred of truth to that, but the reality is that America needs better skaters. In four years, Julia Lipnitskaia will be 19, with four more years of international experience. The Americans don't have anyone, at present, who will compete with that.
Other than Gracie Gold, who was impressive, finishing fourth in her Olympic debut, the U.S. is simply behind other nations. The men's figure skating team is in shambles. Jeremy Abbott struggled mightily, and Jason Brown was not quite ready for prime time. That said, Brown does plan on competing in the next few Olympics, as per Sean Jensen of Thrive Sports:
But we have to be honest, here: The U.S. is slipping. Outside of Gracie Gold—more on her in a moment—there is no star prospect. There is no Michelle Kwan. There is no Evan Lysacek.
So what can the U.S. do for the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang?
For one, they need to double-down on their development program. And not just at the national level—but at the state and local level. Some sort of "Drive for 2018" campaign would help. Scott Hamilton said on NPR's All Things Considered:
We need a skater that's compelling, magnificent and knows how to draw a crowd, to step up and say, "I'm rebuilding the professional ranks." And you'd see hands go up and say, "Hallelujah."
The one hope the Americans do have is Gracie Gold. The 18-year-old finished fourth in the women's program and shows the kind of poise that Hamilton mentioned above. As Gold told Mary Pilon of The New York Times:
I felt like I had a shot at a medal. But being points behind the women, and knowing that they skated really well, I sort of let go of those expectations of getting a medal and I just skated for myself and I just skated the best program that I could.
I pretty much knew that I was going to come in fourth, but then I said, I’m fourth at the Olympic Games. What are you talking about? Why is that disappointing?
That kind of attitude will be needed in the next few years, and it will be needed in all disciplines, not just the women's program. It's needed in the development of the pairs program, where the highest American pair—Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir—finished ninth.
The guiding vision for the U.S. program should be Hamilton's. It wasn't too long ago when skaters like Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski captured the hearts of a nation. And just like Julia Lipnitskaia did for Russia, the U.S. needs that type of transcendent talent—technically proficient, yes, but with a graceful flair—to truly compete.
If the U.S. continues to develop Gold, while focusing on young skaters like Polina Edmunds and instituting the "Hamilton Vision" into the coaching of all its disciplines, then there's a good chance that 2018 will treat the Americans nicely.
But if they stand idle and wait for the next star to magically drop out of the sky, then they've got another thing coming. It's a critical four years. Maybe the most critical four years in the program's history.
And how they respond will dictate the results of the future.
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