U.S. figure skating continues downward trend

By Philip Hersh / Chicago Tribune

SOCHI, Russia — The numbers do not add up to a pretty picture for United States figure skating.

The U.S. skaters left the Winter Olympics here with the historic ice dance gold by Meryl Davis and Charlie White as their only medal in the sport’s four traditional disciplines, matching Team USA’s lowest Olympic total since the 1994 Games.

The women have failed to win a medal at either the Olympics or world championships since Kimmie Meissner’s world title in 2006 — the longest such U.S. drought since figure skating became an Olympic sport in 1924.

This was the first time U.S. women have gone without medals at consecutive Olympics since 1948.

No U.S. man has finished higher than seventh at the Olympics or worlds since 2010.

U.S. pairs simply remain noncompetitive on the world scene.

Behind those dismal numbers is some hope.

Gracie Gold, 18, has established herself as a solid medal contender.

And despite a sloppy free skate that dropped him from sixth to ninth in the final standings, Jason Brown, 19, is a treat to watch who should be a medal contender as soon as he masters a quadruple jump.

“The next (four years) should be really interesting,” Gold said after finishing fourth in women’s singles and doing a strong, clean free skate to help the United States win bronze in the team event.

Gold fell once in the singles free skate, but even an error-free program would not have been enough to take the bronze medal from Italy’s Carolina Kostner.

What of Polina Edmunds, 15, who finished ninth, and Ashley Wagner, 22, who was seventh, both of whom want to have another Olympic shot in 2018?

Edmunds clearly has tremendous physical talent. If she develops both consistency and artistry over the next four years, she could be in the mix for a 2018 medal. Wagner, who barely missed a medal at the 2012 world championships, has dropped a long way in the minds of judges, on whom Wagner’s two stand-up skates in the Olympic singles made only a minimal impression, leaving her 23 points from third.

The Russians had gold and silver in pairs, gold in women’s singles and the team event and bronze in ice dance. The runner-up pair and ice dance bronze medalists were both young surprises who figure to be gold medal contenders four years from now in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“After Vancouver, we had to sit down and analyze what was happening,” said Sotnikova’s coach, Elena Buyanova. “We could not have been given better conditions — physical trainers, choreographers, medical staff. I cannot remember anything like this in my coaching life. You can see the results.”