SOCHI, Russia -- Russian figure skaters took home the Olympic pairs gold and silver medals after elegant, balletic programs that delighted the hometown crowd.
Americans Nathan Bartholomay and Felicia Zhang, a waiter and college student/store clerk who train at Ellenton Ice & Sports Complex, will take home a lifetime of memories -- from rubbing elbows with famous athletes at the Opening Ceremony to receiving a warm reception from fans at the Iceberg Skating Palace during their 12th-place performance Wednesday night.
"I got to meet (snowboarder) Shaun White in the Opening Ceremony; he's always been a huge idol of mine," said Bartholomay, 24, a native of Newtown, Pa., who moved to Bradenton to train at the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club with coach Jim Peterson.
Zhang, a USF student, and Bartholomay were the only pair in the Olympic final that had never competed in a world championship, so the fact that they were on the same ice as gold medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov was reason enough to feel proud. The American pair received 167.21 points for their routine to the music of "Les Miserables."
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"We weren't too worried about the placement coming in here because we're a fairly new team," Zhang said. "We just competed in our first Olympic Games, and we handled the pressure really well."
Added Bartholomay, "I think we're the only team in the team final that had not been in a world championship. In pairs you have to use that as a stepping stone. We look forward to being frontrunners for the world championships (for the USA) next year."
Volosozhar and Trankov won the gold medal with a score of 236.86, while Russia's Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov took the silver with a score of 218.68. The bronze medal went to Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolokowy (215.78).
"It was our obligation to bring gold back to Russia," said Trankov. "The whole country expected that. We're proud to bring back the tradition. It was absolutely great."
The other U.S. pair, Marissa Castelli (Cranston, R.I.) and Simon Shnapir (Sudbury, Mass.), placed ninth with a score of 187.82.
Bartholomay said they were not nervous when the big moment arrived Wednesday night.
"When (the music) started we buckled down and looked into each other's eyes and went for it," he said.
The pair finished 14th in the short program Tuesday night, so they moved up two spots. Zhang and Bartholomay met while training with other partners at a Delaware rink. After the 2011 national championships, they separated from their partners and decided to team up. They wound up finishing third at the 2013 U.S. nationals, and second at the 2014 nationals.
They plan to stay in Sochi until Sunday and then head back to Florida.
And, like many top athletes after a big event, what do they plan to do?
Visit Disney World.