Toss-ups rule U.S. figure skating

World champion ice dancers Meryl Davis, left, and Charlie White are the only solid favorites at this week’s U.S. championships.

Associated Press

World champion ice dancers Meryl Davis, left, and Charlie White are the only solid favorites at this week’s U.S. championships.

World champion and 2010 silver medal-winning ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White should easily make the U.S. figure skating team. Two-time U.S. women's champion Ashley Wagner is a strong favorite to make it.

Beyond that, the national championships, which begin Thursday in Boston and basically serve as the Olympic trials, are wide open.

With defending men's gold medalist Evan Lysacek out because of a series of injuries, the men's field has no strong favorite.

As for pairs, the United States has been weak in the discipline for decades. Its last medal was bronze in 1988. Wesley Chapel's Caydee Denney, a 2010 Olympian with Jeremy Barrett while training at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex in Manatee County, has a new partner, John Coughlin, and the duo won the 2012 U.S. title. The pair, training in Colorado, missed last year's nationals after Coughlin had hip surgery in December 2012.

The United States gets the maximum three entrants in the ice dance and women's fields, just two in men's and pairs.

Nobody can be a shoo-in for such a slippery sport. Yet, if there is a sure thing in Boston, it's that Davis, 27, and White, 26, will win their sixth straight title.

"Our ability to live in the moment and focus on what we can do to improve our scores and skating in general has allowed us to grow," White said. "We are definitely not getting away from that now."

Sort of local flavor: The Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex already has a guaranteed representative at the Games. British pairs skaters Stacey Kemp and David King, who train in Manatee County, have been named to the U.K. team.

Number of the day: $50 billion, the Games' cost, making Sochi the costliest Olympics ever.

Vonn still on hold: Lindsey Vonn's head coach said Saturday that Vonn has not skied for two weeks and will "most likely" skip next weekend's World Cup races in Austria, leaving her status for the Olympics in the air.

Vonn, the defending Olympic downhill champion and a four-time overall World Cup winner, remains in the United States after aggravating her surgically repaired right knee at a downhill race Dec. 21 in France.

"Right now it's a total open book," U.S. coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. "It totally depends on how she recovers."

Hoedlmoser said he would have no problem putting Vonn on the team even if she doesn't race in the six weeks before Sochi.

Roster controversies aside … Two days after players who were left off the U.S. men's hockey team got as much attention as those who made it, coach Dan Bylsma (also the Penguins' leader), was finally allowed to give his thoughts on the team's makeup.

"Skating and speed at a premium," Bylsma said. "We also thought this group of players and this team should be great defensively."

In 2010, the United States lost in overtime to Canada for the gold. It expects to be a medal contender again, but international ice, wider and longer than the North American NHL surface, will present a challenge.

"We've looked at as much international hockey as we could," Bylsma said. "The neutral zone, transition from defense to offense in that area, is different."

Struggles lead to a first: Eddie Alvarez, a former inline skater from Miami, became the first Cuban-American man to make an Olympic speed skating team after finishing second to J.R. Celski in two 500-meter finals at the short track trials in Kearns, Utah.

Long-track speed skater Jennifer Rodriguez, another former inline skater from Miami, was the first Cuban-American to make the U.S. team in any sport in 1998.

Alvarez, 24, failed to make the 2010 team and quit the sport to play junior college baseball. He then found out that in his knees, he had 12 tears between them. He had them repaired at the same time. He was bedridden for a month and couldn't walk by himself for two months.

"I basically hated life," he said. "I just had no hope whatsoever."

By July 2012, Alvarez was skating again and eventually started training with Celski, whom he refers to as a brother.

"I had a moment in the locker room," Alvarez said after the 500. "I just kind of looked back at what I went through to get here."

Winter Olympics

When: Feb. 7-23

Where: Sochi, Russia

Toss-ups rule U.S. figure skating 01/04/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 4, 2014 8:45pm]

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