SOCHI – In the inaugural Olympic team figure skating event, the United States plans to lead with its veteran, two-time national champion Ashley Wagner, in the women's short program Saturday night. Gracie Gold, the 2014 national champion, will skate the long program Sunday night, according to multiple people, barring any last-minute changes or injuries.
The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity, because the team lineup won't be announced until Wednesday morning.
The pressure will be on the 22-year-old Wagner to deliver a clean short program in her first outing since a shaky short program at the national championships in Boston, followed by two falls in her long program.
Four-time national champion Jeremy Abbott will skate the men's short program, with 2014 national silver medalist Jason Brown anchoring the men's portion of the event by skating the long program Sunday night, when the medals will be awarded.
Two-time national champion pairs skaters Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir will perform double-duty by skating both the short and long programs, as will 2010 Olympic silver medalists and six-time national champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White in the ice dance.
The competition begins Thursday night with the mens' and pairs' short programs, then continues Saturday and finishes Sunday.
The team competition will give Olympic figure skating its first taste of a Ryder Cup-style event, only with judges.
Although Wagner did not skate well at last month's national championships, finishing fourth, she was placed on the U.S. Olympic team due to the strength of her international resume, which included being team leader at last year's world team event, which was won by the Americans.
Asked at the nationals if the United States should be considered a strong medal favorite in the team event, Wagner didn't hesitate.
"Absolutely," she said. "The United States is a very strong team. Absolutely hands down, I think the U.S. is one of the front-runners for a medal in the team event."
Canada and Russia are also favored to win medals in the 10-country event. Countries are permitted to enter any skaters in the team event that qualified for the four traditional disciplines in the Games: women, men, pairs and dance. It's permissible to have one skater or pairs/dance team skate both sections of the team competition or teams can split the short/long-program duties in up to two of the four events.
As the sport and its athletes begin to adjust to this new event, some skaters (or their coaches) have indicated they would rather not compete in both portions of the team event so they can focus on their individual competition coming later in the Games.
"It's an opportunity to receive another Olympic medal," Wagner said. "Being team leader, I realized there was a great sense of camaraderie with our team, which made it so much fun."