SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The Olympic men’s figure skating gold medalist is 19 years old. The women’s champion is 17.
The future has already arrived in the sport, and the United States is behind. For the first time since 1936, no American man or woman won a medal in singles at the Sochi Games.
Teenagers Gracie Gold, Polina Edmunds and Jason Brown showed moments of tantalizing potential at the Olympics. They now have the next four years to progress from promising to podium. Or maybe a youngster currently in juniors will be the next Yuzuru Hanyu or Adelina Sotnikova in 2018.
Some success at the world championships would suggest better results at the Olympics. The American men haven’t won a medal at worlds since Evan Lysacek’s title in 2009, which he followed with gold in Vancouver the following year. The women haven’t won a medal since the 2006 worlds, when Kimmie Meissner won and Sasha Cohen took bronze after the Turin Games.
Gold, Edmunds and Brown have all come a long way in just the last few months. They’ll need to keep improving at that same pace to start contending for major championships.
Gold started working with Frank Carroll, whose storied career includes coaching Lysacek to gold in 2010, only in September. After an unremarkable Grand Prix season, she broke through at last month’s U.S. Championships with a lopsided victory. The 18-year-old finished fourth in Sochi, though well out of bronze.
She had a clean free skate in the team competition, helping the U.S. to a bronze medal, and a shaky but ultimately clean short program in singles before falling in Thursday’s performance.
“I went down on the triple flip but, at the end of the day, skating these three programs at the Olympics was wonderful,” Gold said.
Edmunds, 15, had never even competed in an international event at the senior level before the Olympics. But she earned that chance when she finished second behind Gold at nationals, then took ninth in Sochi.
Edmunds showed the first hint of nerves in her free skate, when she also fell on a triple flip.
“My mindset is now going to be if I’m in the air, I have to land,” she said.
Brown, 19, was also ninth. He wasn’t sure at the start of the year whether to compete at the junior or senior level, but then he placed second at the U.S. Championships behind Jeremy Abbott, who’s retiring. Unlike the world’s top men, Brown doesn’t do any quadruple jumps. He could put up some big scores if he can add a quad to his already world-class spins and choreography.
“I definitely think with that anything is possible,” Brown said.
Two-time U.S. champ Ashley Wagner also plans to keep competing through 2018, when she’d be 26. That seems young considering Italy’s Carolina Kostner won her first Olympic medal Thursday at age 27.
In pairs, the U.S. got ninth- and 12th-place finishes from Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, the two-time U.S. champs, and Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay — an improvement over Vancouver that could keep getting better if the top American teams stick together, which hasn’t happened enough in recent years.
Just as the United States was sliding from its customary perch atop the singles competition, the Americans were making history in another discipline. Meryl Davis and Charlie White became the country’s first Olympic gold medalists in ice dance.
They haven’t yet said whether they’ll keep competing, but the U.S. now has good depth behind them. Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who have been together for just 2½ years, were eighth, and the Shibutani siblings, 19-year-old Maia and 22-year-old Alex, were ninth.
“We’re really proud to represent our country at the Olympic event like this,” White said, “and to be the first Americans to win gold.”