Will U.S. end medal drought? Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold chime in

Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold
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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.”

MORE: Olympic champions left off Russian team for Worlds

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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Freestyle skiers in World Cup action on NBC Sports, Peacock

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Olympic gold medalists David Wise and Alex Hall headline World Cup freestyle skiing and snowboarding stops in the U.S. this weekend, airing on NBC Sports and Peacock.

Wise, who last Sunday won his fifth X Games Aspen ski halfpipe title, led the qualifiers into the final at the Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix in California.

He’s joined in the 10-man final by U.S. Olympic teammates Aaron Blunck and Birk Irving. The women’s ski halfpipe final includes the top three from last week’s X Games — Brit Zoe Atkin, Canadian Rachael Karker and American Svea Irving. Olympic champion Eileen Gu of China is out after suffering a knee injury in an X Games training crash.

The ski slopestyle finals include the reigning men’s and women’s Olympic gold medalists — Hall, plus Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland.

The marquee snowboarders in Mammoth finals are Olympic big air silver medalist Julia Marino (slopestyle) and X Games silver medalist Maddie Mastro (halfpipe). Two-time Olympic champion Chloe Kim is taking the season off, and another double Olympic champion, Jamie Anderson, is pregnant.

Aerials and moguls skiers are competing in their lone U.S. World Cup stop in Park City, Utah.

The moguls fields including Olympic gold medalists Walter Wallberg of Sweden, Mikael Kingsbury of the U.S., Perrine Laffont of France and Jakara Anthony of Australia. Olympic silver medalist Jaelin Kauf is the standout American.

The aerials include every member of the U.S. team that took gold at last year’s Olympics — Ashley Caldwell, Chris Lillis and Justin Schoenefeld.

Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding World Cup Broadcast Schedule

Day Event Time (ET) Platform
Saturday Moguls 11 a.m. CNBC, Peacock
Ski Halfpipe 3 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Sunday Ski Slopestyle 12 p.m. CNBC, Peacock
Sun., Feb. 12 Aerials, Dual Moguls 2 p.m. NBC, Peacock
Snowboard Halfpipe 2 p.m. CNBC, Peacock

All NBC and CNBC coverage also streams on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers.

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