U.S. figure skaters left last week's World Figure Skating Championships without a medal, marking the first time since 1994 that the Americans left the event empty-handed.
But, in a weird way, the worlds were still a success.
That's because the Americans earned three spots for skaters in three of skating's four disciplines (men's, women's and ice dancing) at the 2015 worlds in Shanghai. Any skater, especially ones like Ashley Wagner (2010 in Vancouver) and Max Aaron (2014 in Sochi) who missed out on competing at the Olympics by one spot, can tell you how important it is for the United States to secure the maximum three spots every year.
The only discipline in which U.S. skaters earned just two spots was in pairs, and that would have been a huge surprise had the Americans come back with three there. (The top U.S. pairs team of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir finished 11th at worlds.)
The best any U.S. skaters fared in Japan was fifth. Gracie Gold, Jeremy Abbott and the ice-dancing duo of Madison Chock and Evan Bates all finished fifth, but each had different thoughts about that placement.
For Gold, the U.S. champion who made her Olympic debut in Sochi, fifth place was a disappointment. Gold had finished fourth in Sochi and there was some talk, especially with the gold and silver medalists from the Olympics not competing in worlds, that she could medal and potentially win the world title. Gold's free skate opened with a strong triple-Lutz-triple toe, but her performance deteriorated quickly as she turned a double Axel into a single and later fell on another double Axel attempt.
"I don't really know what happened," Gold said. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to put out my best performance for the U.S. and for my team. I'll have to refocus and try again next season.
"I learned what I need to work on and I need to train harder. I need to complete the whole package. One competition, it's lovely skating; one competition is lovely jumps. I have to work on putting the package together and getting better programs for next season."
For Abbott, the performance didn't match the results. He placed fourth in the free skate and his routine included a quad toe and some of the best overall skating he's showcased all season. Yet he was somewhat confused by the overall scoring.
Abbott had said he planned on ending his competitive career after this event, but after skating such a strong performance, that might no longer be the case.
"If I go out today, I would be happy because that's the best I've skated," Abbott said. "I'm certainly not done skating. I love to skate and I love to perform and I love to create. That's going to be with me for a long time. As long as the phone rings, I'm going to be on the ice. I'm going to be in front of an audience for a long time to come. I don't know. I'm trying to absorb this moment and then I'll go home and take the next step to see what happens."
Ice dancing, which has become America's forté in skating, will continue to have three spots at worlds, even though Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White did not make the trip to Japan. The two are still dancing, just on the TV dance floor instead of ice, as they are competing on "Dancing With The Stars."
Since they were not going to be skating, there was some concern the United States would not be able to maintain its strength in the field. In Sochi, Chock and Bates placed eighth, while Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani were ninth. Those Olympic finishes would not have been high enough to get the United States three spots for 2015.
Chock and Bates, who teamed up just in 2011, have put themselves in the driver's seat for the Americans, which will need a strong team to fill in the huge void left by Davis and White.
"Now that we've experienced the world stage and the Olympic stage together, we can have confidence in ourselves," Bates said.
The competitive season is now at a close, but that doesn't mean the skaters are taking much of a break. Several of the Olympians will be in Washington, D.C., to meet President Barack Obama on Thursday and then the 20-date "Stars on Ice" tour opens April 4 in Fort Meyers, Fla.