ADLER, Russia -- The last time the U.S. failed to medal in either the men's, women's or pairs figure skating competitions at an Olympic Games was 1936, when the Games were held in the Bavaria mountain resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and were organized by the Sports Office of the Third Reich.
"Hitler's Olympics," U.S. coach Frank Carroll said.
Team USA, already shut out in men's and pairs, heads into the Olympic Games women's short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace Wednesday night with a final chance to secure a medal in the so-called Big Three competitions and avoid a historical low-point and psychological setback for an American sport already suffering dwindling attendance and television ratings.
"I think absolutely given our history we need a lady on the podium," said Ashley Wagner, the two-time U.S. champion from Laguna Beach, Calif. "We need ladies that stand out and are remarkable to the U.S. public and brings interest into the sport. So I think that a podium finish is the best way to get some attention."
To get to the podium after Thursday night's free skate, Wagner, current U.S. champion Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds will have to overcome one of the deepest Olympic women's fields in history, a group that includes three World champions and even more compelling story lines.
"So many people vying for those top spots," Wagner said, "there's so many people that can legitimately be on the podium that it will be interesting to see what happens."
"I would say a handful of eight to 10 girls that could get on the podium," Wagner said.
At the top of the list is South Korea's Kim Yuna, Queen Yuna, the reigning Olympic and World champion trying to become the first skater to successfully defend their Olympic title since East Germany's Katarina Witt did it in 1988 in Calgary. Most of the form charts have Japan's Mao Asada, a two-time World champion and the silver medalist to Kim in Vancouver, and Russia's 15-year-old sensation Yulia Lipnitskaya as the primary threats to Queen Yuna's throne. The field also includes Italy's Carolina Kostner, the 2012 World champion.
"I think there's a different kind of expectation on everyone," Gold said. "Yuna is the reigning (champion). Yulia's like the new hope. Mao is silver, is she going to go gold? Mine is like the U.S. hasn't had a medalist. So everybody has sort of a different bag of expectations they carry."
Adding to Team USA's baggage is the fact that the U.S. hasn't gone consecutive Olympics without a women's skating medal since 1948. Also hanging over Wagner & Co. is the United States' failure to secure a medal at an Olympic Games or World Championships since 2006, the longest such dry spell since 1937.
U.S. skaters and coaches, however, remain convinced they can sneak onto the medal podium even against such a decorated field. U.S. hopes, and those for the rest of the field, received a boost Tuesday night when Kim, after her training session, told a small group of reporters that she believes her best days are behind her.
"It's hard for me to compare myself to that time," Kim said referring to her world record-shattering gold-medal victory in 2010. "I was in my best form in Vancouver four years ago."
"Well that's quite a statement," Carroll, who guided Evan Lysacek to the 2010 Olympic men's title and also coached five-time World champion Michelle Kwan, said of Kim. "She's a wonderful skater. I think that to me that just indicates doubt."
A few days ago Carroll decided to catch a few minutes of Kim and her South Korea teammates training session.
"This is really weird," Carroll said. "The Korean girls were practicing and I went in to watch them. I only had a couple of minutes because I was waiting for the bus and I was looking at these girls and I tried to pick (Kim) out and I couldn't pick her out. I didn't know what one she was. That to me was strange because I was expecting this 'Yuna Kim!' and you know there was going to be a whole different way of going about it. (But it was) 'Is that her? Is that her?' "
Neither is Carroll convinced that Lipnitskaya is ready to become Olympic champion. The teenager, or little girl as Carroll calls her, has become the darling of the Russian media and is viewed by many in the international skating community as Kim's heir apparent and biggest threat after she won the team competition's short and long programs.
"The judges are going to do what they want," Carroll said. "The little girl, Yulia, she is very, very good. Extremely talented. I admire her skating. I think she's wonderful. Is she a 10, a score 10, in the program components score or 9.5? I don't think so. I think she will be that way and she will mature with time and be fantastic. But I don't think that time is now. The jumping is incredible. And she's great fun to watch but I don't know: Is she the ladies Olympic champion?
"When you look at it, is this the ladies Olympic champion? I don't know. Everyone has an opinion. I have an opinion. The judges have an opinion and whoever's on that (judging) panel's opinion is going to be the one who wins out."
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