When the World Figure Skating Championships begin in Boston in two weeks, more than 10 years will have passed since the last time a U.S. woman stood on an individual Olympic or Worlds podium.
It is the longest American drought since the first Winter Games in 1924, in arguably the marquee event of the Winter Olympics.
For the fourth straight year, both Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold are tasked with answering the question — is this the time a U.S. woman returns to the podium?
“The first thing that people need to stop and take a look at is how extremely competitive the international scene has gotten,” Wagner answered Thursday. “I think that everyone is so quick to say the U.S. ladies aren’t good enough. The U.S. ladies just aren’t what they used to be. I don’t think that that’s necessarily the case. I’m not saying that I’m Michelle Kwan, but at the same time I think that the U.S. has really talented athletes.
“Internationally, I think we are seeing a competitive scene that we have never had to go up against before. The Russians are strong. The Japanese are strong. … The field has just changed so dramatically since the ’90s, since the early 2000s.”
Russia is the world power in women’s skating that the U.S. used to be, cycling through champion skaters the last three years.
Four different Russian women made an Olympic or Worlds podium from the fall of the Soviet Union through 2011. Four different Russian women made an Olympic or Worlds podium in 2014 and 2015. And only one of them is on this year’s three-woman Worlds team.
Starting with Shizuka Arakawa at the 2006 Olympics, seven different Japanese women have finished on the podium at Worlds or the Olympics. Before 2006, four different Japanese women had done so.
Wagner, 24 and a three-time U.S. champion, finished on the podium three of the last four years at the second-biggest annual competition — the Grand Prix Final.
But at the last four Worlds and the 2014 Olympics, her finishes have been fourth, fifth, seventh, seventh and fifth.
And she was third at the U.S. Championships in January, behind Gold and the third member of the U.S. team for Worlds — Polina Edmunds. Wagner called the finish a blessing in disguise, that she thrives in the underdog role.
“I have given so many of these responses and not actually skated on it,” she said. “But I really do feel like I am prepared. I feel calm. I feel confident, and it’s just time to go do the job. I think that the rest will fall into place. I think that this is definitely the year that if we’re going to do it [make the podium], this would give us some great momentum in the sport.”
Gold, 20 and a two-time U.S. champion, has eight times competed individually across the Olympics, Worlds, Grand Prix Final and Four Continents Championships. She has finished between fourth and sixth place each time.
Gold was asked if she’s confident she will leave Worlds with a medal.
“I’m confident that I’m going to skate two really amazing programs,” said Gold, who has struggled to lay down back-to-back clean programs in her four seasons as a senior skater. “I will say that I would be disappointed if Boston doesn’t go the way that I hope, which would be a medal or first place.”
U.S. skaters have a home-ice advantage at Worlds for the first time since 2009 in two weeks, but they may need other skaters to falter to have a shot at the podium.
Russians Yevgenia Medvedeva and Yelena Radionova and Japan’s Satoko Miyahara have been the best skaters this season. Japan’s Mao Asada is the only skater in the field who owns an Olympic or Worlds gold medal.
“What I can control and what I have to think about before the competition is just doing my program,” Gold said. “Everything else is out of my hands.”