SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Meryl Davis and Charlie White comforted and cheered their fellow Americans on a tough first night of competition for the U.S. in the new Olympic event of team figure skating.
Nice to have their support, no doubt. But the biggest pick-me-up they can provide? Two dazzling performances in ice dancing.
The United States team was tied for the fifth-most points after the Thursday short programs for the men and pairs, technically resting in seventh after tiebreakers among 10 nations.
Only the top five countries advance to the free skates, a cut made after the women and ice dancers complete their short programs. But the Americans are hardly in a precarious position, because they boast the reigning world ice dancing champs in Davis and White.
Russia leads with 19 points, and the other favorite, Canada, has 17. The U.S. earned just 10 on Thursday, but has better balance then most of the squads ahead of it and two wins from its ice dancers would be worth 20 points.
Still, after the falls and botched jumps from U.S. champions Jeremy Abbott and the pairs team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, bronze may be the team's best hope.
For Abbott, it was yet another rocky performance at a major international event. A four-time U.S. champ, he has never captured that magic on the biggest of stages. Before the 2010 Olympics, he beat Evan Lysacek at nationals, only to finish ninth in Vancouver while his compatriot won gold.
Thursday's short program looked a lot like his first outing at the games four years ago, with Abbott crashing into the boards after falling on his opening quad jump. Yet he insisted this was completely different.
He dubbed the team event a "run through." Afterward, he said he told himself: "All right, I had my Olympic disaster, and now I can move on and do what I came here to do."
That's the individual event, which starts next Thursday.
"I really wanted to pull out a win for my friends and for my family. That was very important to me. I'm torn apart I couldn't do that for them," he said. "But for me, I feel like it was a very positive step. You're all going to think I'm crazy. I just fell on my butt and did a horrible program.
"But I have another chance next week."
Abbott finished with 65.65 points, seventh among the men, after managing only a single axel on a planned triple. U.S. runner-up Jason Brown is likely to replace him in Sunday's free skate, a switch allowed by the rules in two of the four disciplines.
Two-time U.S. champ Ashley Wagner plans to do the short program Saturday, though she's coming off a mistake-marred free skate of her own at nationals. The pairs free skate is also Saturday. The event wraps up Sunday with the men's, women's and ice dance long programs.
Castelli and Shnapir, in their first Olympics, were fifth among the pairs with a personal-best 64.25 points in an international event. Castelli fell and Shnapir put his hand down on their side-by-side triple salchows, but they were solid enough overall to solidify the Americans' spot in the standings after Abbott's scuffles.
"For making two mistakes in our jumps and still getting our season best and personal best, we're thrilled with that final score," said Shnapir, who was born in Russia but moved to the U.S. as a toddler, "and we know we can score much, much higher with a clean program."