Russia rules roost as Team USA surges into thirdDavis, White catapult Americans into final round; Canada sits second
Team USA and its fans can breathe easy: It has qualified for the five-country free skate round of the inaugural Olympic team skating event, thanks to a win by Meryl Davis and Charlie White and a fourth-place finish from Ashley Wagner.
Members of Team Russia, leaders after the first night of competition Thursday at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, widened their lead, with Julia Lipnitskaia skating a near-flawless routine to win the ladies short program segment. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dimitri Soloviev notched a new season's best to take third in the short dance, behind Davis and White and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
The good news for Russia continued in the pairs free skate, held after completion of the short programs. European silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, pinch-hitting for top pair Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, skated a season's-best program that earned 135.09 points for first place and added another 10 points to Team Russia's score.
Heading into the men's, ladies and ice dance free skates, the standings are:
- Russia - 47 points
- Canada - 41 points
- USA - 34 points
- Italy - 31 points
- Japan - 30 points
France (22), China (20), Germany (17), Ukraine (10) and Great Britain (8) were eliminated after the short programs.
Team USA -- which was tied with Italy, France and Germany for fifth place after the first night of competition -- counted on a win and 10 points from Davis and White, and the world champions did not disappoint.
Their light, fleet-footed outing to selections from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady gained Level 4's for its twizzles, second Finnstep section and rotational lift, and earned 75.98 points.
"We're really excited to be back in the hunt for a medal," Davis said. "Charlie and I were definitely focused on our performance today. Now that we're done, it's nice to see the U.S. back in the top [group] here."
Skating to a Louis Armstrong-Ella Fitzgerald medley, Virtue and Moir captured the character and musicality of the foxtrot and quickstep, but Virtue made a costly error on the second portion of their three-part twizzle sequence, dropping it down a level. The Canadian Olympic champions lost more than two points to Davis and White on the element, and their 72.98 points were several points below their season's-best score.
"I might have lost a little bit of speed," Virtue said. "It wasn't a mental lapse. I actually recovered and stayed on the same foot, so I thought we might still get the Level 4."
"We've been training so well here, skating lights out," she added. "Today may be a bit of a setback, but that doesn't change our plan."
Bobrova and Soloviev did their part for Team Russia, gaining a season's-best 70.27 points to defeat Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat of France, who placed fourth, and Italian European champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, fifth.
The three teams are among those expected to battle for bronze in the individual ice dance event.
"We decided to skip the European championships this season so we could change our free dance and also work more on our short dance," Bobrova said. "It was a good decision."
The winsome 15-year-old Lipnitskaia shone in the ladies short, landing a triple Lutz-triple toe combination and triple flip, and sparkling in her three level 4 spins. Her 72.90 points is a new season's best.
"I felt calmer, even better than at other competitions," the youngster said. "I'm shocked. I am well prepared and I always try to be self-confident, even if something goes wrong."
Competing on her 27th birthday, Carolina Kostner lifted Italy into the medal round by placing second to Lipnitskaia with a gloriously musical rendition of her Ave Maria short, landing a triple toe-triple toe combination and solid triple loop. Her 70.84 points was also a season's best.
"I think I can do a lot for my team, and I'm glad to help us reach the final," Kostner said. "I will compete in the free skate as well."
Mao Asada's third place, combined with Cathy Reed and Chris Reed's eighth place in ice dance, was enough to take Japan into the final round. Asada fell on her signature jump, the triple Axel, and it was downgraded by the technical panel. She earned 64.07 points.
Wagner, the two-time U.S. champion, had an exceptionally expressive skate to Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond," but the second jump in her triple flip-triple toe loop combination was judged under-rotated. She earned 63.10 points.
"It was tough going out there after a disappointing nationals, so it was important for me to redeem myself," Wagner said, adding that she was unhappy with her score.
"I know what I'm capable of and what this program is capable of," she said. "I don't agree with the marks, but that's what the individual event is for."
Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond skated a solid short, gaining fifth place and six points for Team Canada.
With the pairs individual short program just three days away, the team pairs free skate was held immediately following the completion of the ladies short.
Even without Volosozhar and Trankov, who elected to rest up for their individual event, Russia won easily. Stolbova and Klimov skated a stylish free to music from The Addams Family, highlighted by strong individual jumps and solid throws. They earned 135.09 points, outpacing Canadian silver medalists Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch by more than five points.
Italy's Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek gained eight points for their third-place finish.
U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir's fourth-place standing added seven points to Team USA's total. Castelli turned out of the throw quadruple Salchow and fell on a solo triple Salchow, but they still gained a season's-best 117.94 points.
"Yes, I had a glitch on the Salchow, but one mistake does not break a program," Castelli said. "We were finally able to pull it all together."
U.S. Figure Skating calls reports of collusion "categorically false"
Discussion of skating was overshadowed in the mixed zone by reporters' questions concerning allegations made in the French newspaper "L'Equipe." Citing a Russian coach as an anonymous source, an article reports a deal was struck between U.S. and Russian skating officials: the two countries would work together to "help" Davis and White win individual gold, with Russia to win team and pairs gold.
U.S. Figure Skating issued a response to reporters, stating, "Comments made in a L'Equipe story are categorically false. There is no help between countries. We have no further response to rumors, anonymous sources or conjecture."
Both Davis and White, and Virtue and Moir, shrugged off the story.
"The disappointment on our faces is because of our performance tonight; it has nothing to do with the technical panel," Moir said.
"It's the first time we're hearing this," Davis said. "It's unfortunate there is an article. We're confident what we put on the ice speaks for itself."
White vowed he and Davis would not let "external factors" affect their skating.
"What's great about us in the 17 years we've skated together, throughout the ups and downs, is we just want to come in and do our best," White said.
Marina Zoueva, who coaches both of the top dance teams in Canton, Mich., said she was unaware of any rumor.
"Tessa made a technical mistake on the twizzles, that is why the score is lower," she said.
The rumor is farfetched. If they skate well, the U.S. or Russian skaters mentioned would likely not need deals to win.
Davis and White are favorites for gold, having defeated Virtue and Moir in their last four meetings. If they avoid major mistakes, judges have shown that top Russian pair Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov is their choice. With strength in all four disciplines, Russia has long been favored to take team gold.