BOSTON — If two of the three U.S. men’s skaters at this week’s World Championships struggle, it could have a domino effect into the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.
That’s because nations’ finishes at every year’s Worlds determine entry numbers for the next year’s Worlds. And at next year’s Worlds, Olympic entry numbers are likely to be determined, though the International Skating Union hasn’t officially announced qualifying procedures yet.
The two best finishes of the three U.S. men competing this week must add up to 13 or fewer (fifth and eighth, for example) to keep three U.S. men’s spots for the 2017 Worlds.
Three spots over two at the 2017 Worlds will be key for the Olympics, because it allows the U.S. to throw away its weakest finish at 2017 Worlds for Olympic qualifying purposes. If the U.S. has only two skaters entered, there is no margin for error.
Take the last Olympic cycle for example.
In 2013, Aaron finished a respectable seventh in his Worlds debut, but veteran teammate Ross Miner was 14th. Their combined total — 21 — kept the U.S. at two men’s skaters for the Sochi Winter Games, its first time at fewer than the maximum of three since 1998.
“I was hoping and I had a feeling that Ross was going to show up because he had been there before, that he was going to lead the way, and I was going to go out there and throw everything I’ve got at it,” Aaron recalled Monday. “Unfortunately, Ross had a rough skate.”
If the U.S. had a third skater at the 2013 Worlds, it could have thrown away Miner’s 14th place and potentially secured three spots for Sochi.
It didn’t, and Aaron was left in the worst position in January 2014, missing the Olympic team by finishing third at the U.S. Championships.
This week, one of the U.S. trio of Rippon, Aaron and Worlds rookie Grant Hochstein could struggle and have his result thrown away.
Even with that cushion, reaching that 13 number will be a challenge. The field includes the top five skaters from the Grand Prix season, none of which are Americans. If everyone skates their best, sixth or seventh places might be the best the Americans can hope for.
The best previous Worlds finish by Aaron or Rippon was Rippon’s sixth in 2010.
“If I could predict the future, I would tell you what’s going to happen,” Aaron said. “Adam, with his [U.S.] champion status right now, hopefully can lead the way. … If I can bring out the quads [jumps], we’ll see.”