Team USA looking to dig out of hole

World champs hope to help squad qualify for free skate finals

SOCHI, Russia – Hoping to climb out of a huge hole, the United States has turned to its world champions in the team competition at the Sochi Olympics.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White will skate in the short dance team Saturday. Davis and White won the silver medal at the Vancouver Games, and are two-time world champions. They are the Americans’ best hope for a figure skating medal in Sochi.

Ashley Wagner will skate in the women’s short program for a U.S. team that’s in seventh place. Only five teams advance to the free skate after Saturday’s cutdown.

Davis and White have expressed unbridled enthusiasm for the new team event, which is led by Russia with 19 points after Thursday’s opening action. The United States has 10 points, tied for fifth, but seventh overall because of tiebreakers.

“It’s something we are really excited to be a part of,” White said after qualifying for the U.S. team last month. “It is exciting for our sport. Really, figure skating is in the limelight during the Olympics, and for us to have an opportunity to share in even a bigger experience is amazing.

“Obviously, getting to compete twice at the Olympics is something we are not going to take for granted.”

Their top competition in the team short dance, as it has been for years, will be defending Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

Wagner barely made the U.S. team, selected ahead of Mirai Nagasu despite finishing behind Nagasu at last month’s nationals. She is a two-time U.S. champ who was fourth at the U.S. championships, but was added to the squad because of her strong international record.

She will face a strong field that includes Mao Asada, the 2010 Olympic runner-up, Carolina Kostner of Italy, and Russia’s rising star, Julia Lipnitskaia.

After the cutdown, the pairs free skate will be held Saturday night. The team competition ends Monday with the long programs in men’s, women’s and dance.

The Americans fell behind Thursday when four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott finished only seventh, crashing into the boards after falling on his opening quad jump. He could be replaced by Jason Brown, the U.S. runner-up, for the free skate.

U.S. pairs champs Maria Castelli and Simon Shnapir were fifth among the pairs with a personal-best 64.25 points in an international event. They are expected to go in the free skate.