Fifteen U.S. figure skaters will take the ice in Sochi next week, where all but four competitors will make their Olympic debut. The fresh-faced roster includes a brother-sister duo, a sudden YouTube sensation, and three skaters with the potential to restore glory to U.S. women's singles—an event America dominated until the last Olympic Games.
The competition—which includes pairs, ice dancing, men's and women's singles as well as a new team event—begins Feb. 6 on NBC. Read on to meet the newcomers and get re-aquainted with the vets.
TEAM: Feb. 6, 10:30 a.m. EST; Feb. 8, 9:30 a.m.; Feb. 9, 10 a.m. on NBC
All 15 U.S. Olympic figure skaters are eligible to participate in a new team event that will feature the top skaters from the top teams. Men's skater Jeremy Abbott and pairs team Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir will represent the U.S. in the first team events of the competition Thursday.
PAIRS: Feb. 12, 10:45 a.m. EST on NBC
It's been 26 years since the U.S. took home an Olympic medal in pairs figure skating—an event dominated by Russia and China. Competition, this year, will be tough again for the two pairs of Americans heading to Sochi.
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, two-time national champions from New England, have trained together for eight years. Both will both make their Olympic debut in Sochi. The pair's recent performance at finals earned them a gold and plenty of love from the crowd, despite a fall during an attempt at a throw quadruple salchow.
Felicia Zhang 20, of Plainsboro, N.J. and Nathan Bartholomay 24, from Newtown, Pa., placed second at nationals, improving their bronze medal standing from the year before. It is the first Olympic Games for both of them.
MEN'S INDIVIDUAL: Feb. 13-14, 10 a.m. EST on NBC
An injury kept defending Olympic champion Evan Lysacek—the first American man to win figure skating gold since 1988—out of the running for Sochi. In his absence, it will be up to 28-year-old Jeremy Abbott and newcomer Jason Brown to compete again a tough roster of competitors.
Abbott, who placed ninth in the Vancouver Games, will have a chance to redeem himself in Sochi. He easily earned a spot on the team, winning a gold medal for his nearly flawless performance at finals earlier this month.
Brown, a pony-tailed 19-year-old, took silver there, but won the highest approval from the crowd. Before Brown had even finished his high-energy Irish step dance-inspired routine, the audience was roaring on its feet. A YouTube video of the performance, which captures his own disbelief, went viral, racking up more than 3 million hits.
ICE DANCING: Feb. 16, 10 a.m. EST on NBC
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, a pair so in unison they've adopted a single name--“Marlie”-- have dominated this event for years. They're the reigning Olympic silver medalists, six time U.S. Champions and the team's best shot at the gold. The only people who could stand in their way? Their training partners: Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir who clinched the gold in Vancouver.
The story of Evan Bates and Madison Chuck is one of resilience. Bates' career nearly came to an end in 2010 when his then-partner Emily Samuelson fell from a lift and sliced his leg open with one of her skates. The injury was so severe that it kept him off the ice for the entire 2010-2011 season. The skating pair eventually split, but Bates managed to move on, linking up with a new partner Madison Chuck. The pair placed second at the recent U.S. Championship event.
Maia and Alex Shibutani will be a fun pair to follow. Known as the “Shibsibs” the brother-sister ice dancing team regularly post silly behind-the-scenes videos to their YouTube channel and Tumblr account. Follow them for high-energy routines and a glimpse at what life is like for skaters off the ice at Sochi.
WOMEN'S INDIVIDUAL: Feb. 19-20, 10 a.m. EST on NBC
Team USA's fourth-place finish in the women's competition at the 2010 Vancouver Games put an end to a consistent medal streak dating back to 1968. This year, hopes are high that one of three women competing in Sochi could reverse the eight-year dry spell.
Ashley Wagner, a 22-year-old from Alexandria, Va., is one of the three who might do it. Her strong record and reputation convinced the U.S. Figure Skating Association to select her for Sochi, despite a rough performance and fourth-place finish at the recent U.S. championships. She was selected over Mirai Nagasu, who placed third at the event and fourth at the 2010 Olympics.
Wagner's shaky championship presentation, which included two falls, did inspire her to switch up her routine just weeks before the Games. “If I had not skated poorly at Nationals I wouldn't have been able to change a program that wasn't going to get me far in Sochi,” Wanger said, according to NBC Olympics.
Off the ice Wagner has attracted attention by speaking out against Russia's anti-gay law. She has also become one of the most visible stars of the Games, moving further into the spotlight after an injury forced popular skier Lindsey Vonn to pull out of Sochi.
Gracie Gold, 18, placed first at Nationals, easily earning a spot on the Olympic team and loads of media attention. Former skating champ and NBC analyst Scott Hamilton said in an interview with the “Today” show's Matt Lauer that Gold has what it takes to win an individual medal at the Games. “We are going to be in Russia against a couple of strong Russian skaters, but she’s got everything,” he said. She’s got the triple-triple combination, [and] she’s got great presence on the ice.”
Polina Edmunds, 15, is the youngest figure skater on the team and will be one of the youngest athletes at the Games. Though Sochi will be her first senior-level international competition, she has impressed judges and is not being ruled out for a medal. Hamilton, in his interview with “Today” said that Edmunds reminded him of Oksana Baiul, who won the gold for Ukraine in 1994 at the age of 16. Edmund's mother, who has coached her through her career, is a former figure skater and native of Russia.