SALT LAKE CITY - A medal would be nice, but Philip Dulebohn and Tiffany Scott are just happy to be skating at the Winter Games.
With Dulebohn, from Germantown, Md., making a dramatic comeback from an injury, they earned their trip to the games by finishing second yet again in pairs competition last month at the U.S. nationals.
Now, Dulebohn and Scott will skate tonight in the first of two nights of pairs action at the Salt Lake Ice Center. They almost didn't get here.
"There were dark times," Dulebohn said.
A severe stress fracture in Dulebohn's left hip kept the 28-year-old sidelined for four months last fall, forcing Scott to train by herself. It was frustrating for him and lonely for her.
They missed the Grand Prix events and the Goodwill Games, and fell behind in their training schedule.
"I never thought there was no possibility," said Dulebohn, who has been skating for 23 years. "You have to stick to your beliefs."
For the past three years, Dulebohn and Scott have finished second at the U.S. championships, and both felt this was their year to step out of the shadow of Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman.
But last spring, after an 11th-place finish at the world championships, Dulebohn began suffering from lower-back pain. He eased off, but the pain didn't lessen.
Finally, in August, he was found to have a stress fracture in his left hip and told to stay off the ice. Weeks turned to months, and Scott, 24, skated without her partner of six years to stay in shape and got a job at a gym to fill time.
In November, doctors cleared Dulebohn for skating but limited his activity to 20 minutes three times a week, with no heavy lifting.
"It was hard not going all-out, but it was the right thing to do," he said. "It would have been dangerous for us to do anything together."
The two started skating together around Thanksgiving, but they were on borrowed time. The nationals were little more than a month away and their short program wasn't ready. Neither was Scott's dress.
"I skated at the nationals with my dress half-beaded. They just finished it [Thursday]," she said, laughing.
Their performance was as unfinished as the dress. In third place going into the free skate, they knew they had no room for error.
They skated a nearly flawless program, and moved to second, securing their first trip to the games. The pair cried and screamed and hugged their coach, Karl Kurtz.
The excitement has continued. Dulebohn and Scott are thrilled to be at the Winter Games, thrilled to be living in the Olympic Village, thrilled to have their event early in the schedule so that they can enjoy the rest of the two weeks.
They don't harbor any illusions about reaching the podium, despite teammate Zimmerman's insistence that based on the last World Series and Super Bowl, "you can't predict anything. Anything can happen."
The last time any country but the Soviet Union/Russia won the pairs competition was in 1960 in Squaw Valley, Calif.
"It would take a lot to break through that," Dulebohn said. "It's almost inconceivable."