BOSTON - Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim took a quick look at each other as they sat on the ice at TD Garden. An instant before, the skating duo were happily sailing along on the ice as they prepared a triple Salchow, a complicated jump invented by Swedish skater Ulrich Salchow in 1909.
Then they fell, in unison. It almost looked as if the tumble had been choreographed.
It's impossible, at least for me, to avoid wrestling with heartache at such moments. Skaters arrived here this week for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with an immense weight hovering above them. If a skater delivers a superlative performance, there's a strong chance she/he will be traveling to Sochi, Russia, to compete in the Olympics.
And then there's the grim alternative.
A slip on the ice delivers regret that will last for decades. A tiny mistake trashes thousands of hours of work.
Seconds after the conclusion of the short program, Scimeca placed her inner turmoil on display.
When the camera zoomed on her face, she held her hand to her forehead. The full weight of her tumble had already descended on Scimeca, who competes for The Broadmoor Skating Club.
"You know, we're athletes and we train every day of our life and we put every ounce of ourselves into our training," Scimeca said, her voice shaky. "You hope that when you get a chance to show what you've done it will all be there. We had been skating really great in the past few weeks."
She paused, biting her lower lip.
"I was really disappointed."
Peril is plentiful in sport. Peyton Manning is given a couple blinks to find a receiver, and if he throws a crucial fourth-quarter interception, he will be condemned by millions. A basketball player travels to the free-throw line with thousands shouting at her/him to miss.
But there's added agony in an Olympic sport.
The stage is different in an Olympic year.
Every four years, the sports world suddenly becomes engrossed with skiers and skaters. The interest rapidly expands and then just as rapidly dissipates.
"It's an Olympic year, and if you're not excited, it means you don't have a pulse," skater John Coughlin said with a laugh.
The challenge is to not get overexcited, and Coughlin admitted he and his partner Caydee Denney, another Broadmoor skater, struggled to defeat this challenge.
"I wish today would have gone better, a lot better," Denney said, sounding almost as glum as Scimeca. "All we can do is move on. All we can do is fight and try to do the best we can."
The 2014 story is not over for Scimeca/Knierim (fifth place) or Denney/Coughlin (in fourth). Both pairs return to the ice, and the pressure, for Saturday's more expansive free skate competition.
Coughlin talks freely about the pressure. He even mentioned that "everyone in the world" will be watching him and Denney compete on Saturday. Don't worry; he did not actually mean "everyone."
He insists he will not fall victim to all the expectations and all the possibilities.
"There's a mile-long checklist when you're skating into your triple twist," Coughlin said. "If you're paying attention the Olympics, you're not paying attention to the girl flying over your head."
A little advice, John:
Even with the Olympics in sight, keep an eye on that flying girl.