TURIN, Italy - Get ready for a bumpy ride to Vancouver, U.S. figure skating fans.
Michelle Kwan is all but gone for good, Sasha Cohen could be next and there’s no telling how long before there’s another star with their wattage. The men are solid, but they’ve got a ways to go before they can be serious contenders for gold. Pairs are a disaster.
The brightest spot is in, of all places, ice dance.
“The goal for us right now is to be on the medals stand in the 2010 winter Olympic games in every discipline,” David Raith, executive director of U.S. Figure Skating, said last month. “That’s going to take some doing in some of the areas, and I look forward to the challenge of doing that.”
The results at these games showed it might be an even bigger challenge than anticipated.
American skaters won two medals in Turin, silvers by Cohen and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. But Cohen fell into her prize — literally — and the United States was nowhere close to being in the same league as Russia, which fell one event shy of a gold-medal sweep.
“I think sometimes there’s definitely too much pressure on winning a medal,” said Kimmie Meissner, who was sixth at her first Olympics. “It’s not always about what color medal you get, it’s more about if you have a good time and you take away a good experience.”
That’s a nice sentiment to put on a poster, but Americans want medals. Lots of them. Especially in figure skating, the glamour event of the games, along with Alpine skiing.
There’s been at least one American woman on the podium every year since 1964; the Innsbruck Games can’t really be counted because the entire U.S. squad was killed in a plane crash three years earlier.
Though Kwan never won an Olympic gold, she defined her sport for a decade with five world titles and nine U.S. crowns. Her presence alone guaranteed the spotlight would be squarely on the Americans. That spotlight won’t fade, but it won’t be nearly as bright, either.
Try as she might, Cohen never really escaped Kwan’s shadow. When she finally won her lone U.S. title last month, it was lost in the furor over the groin injury that kept Kwan out of the national championship and ultimately doomed her chances in Turin. After winning the short program, Cohen blew any chance at Olympic greatness with two falls in the first minute Thursday night.
Cohen said she plans to compete at the world championships next month in Calgary. Beyond that, her plans are less certain. Her body is already showing signs of wear and tear at 21 and she’ll be 25 in Vancouver, the same age when Kwan broke down.
“I’d love to be there. I love the Olympics, but you never know if you’re going to be competitive and if your body is going to hold up,” Cohen said. “I’ll take it day by day and see where the road goes.”
Meissner has supreme technical ability, but lacks the finishing touches that turn a skater into a star. Her arm movements still look somewhat robotic. Ditto for Hughes, whose expressions and interpretations to music almost look forced.
“I feel I gained a lot of momentum for next season,” Hughes said. “My season started kind of slowly, but I’m really happy about making it to the Olympics. I’ve improved so much from last season, and I’m looking forward to improving even more.”
The bad news is, the Japanese are improving, too.
Miki Ando tried a quadruple salchow here. Mao Asada, who at 15 was too young for Turin, does two triple axels in her program — two more than any other woman even tries right now — and triple-triple combinations in bunches.
Check out the best images from the 2006 Winter Olympics.