TURIN, Italy -- Milestones in figure skating are measured in jumps - who did this thing or that thing first.
The U.S. pairs team of John Baldwin and Rena Inoue established one last month at the U.S. championships when they performed a throw triple axel in their long program. They hope to set another one today by landing one in their short program, too.
The reason is simple. Without the difficult jump, their chance of staying in the top group is slim. Even with it, the two-time U.S. champions are swimming against the tide. The situation for the other U.S. pairs team of Marcy Hinzmann and Aaron Parchem is even more bleak.
"We will have the highest technical value of any pairs in the competition," said Baldwin. "This is the bold move that we need."
The last time a U.S. couple reached the podium was in 1988, when Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard took bronze. Since then, it's been one sixth-place finish, two fifth places and a fourth.
This year's field includes two-time world champions Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin of Russia. That nation has won every pairs gold medal since 1964. Other contenders are Russians Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and China's Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang.
The throw triple axel may be a tiny flash of hope in that otherwise gloomy picture.
Baldwin, 32, was a singles skater. Inoue, 29, was a two-time Olympian for her native Japan, once in singles and once in pairs.
They teamed in 2000 after Baldwin had already made up his mind to retire.
"I would never have continued skating if I hadn't found Rena," he said. "She was my role model on the ice, but the more time I spent with her, the more I wanted to be like her."
At their first national championships, they finished 11th. They jumped to fourth in 2002 and won the bronze in 2003. They captured their first title in 2004, but lost to Katie Orscher and Garrett Lucash in 2005.
They clicked off the ice, too, and began sharing a home in Santa Monica, Calif., four years ago.
The triple throw in their short program has a base value of 7.5 points under the new scoring system; a double is just 3.5. In the long program, it is worth 8.3 points because it comes after the halfway point of the program, when the skaters are tiring.
The jump is considered difficult because it is the only one in which the female partner takes off in a forward direction and completes 3 1/2 revolutions in the air before landing.
"We wouldn't do it unless we feel comfortable," said Inoue. "You don't do something if you don't feel really confident."
Baldwin said they get it right nine out of 11 times in practice.
"All of our throws are finesse moves. We don't just pitch the girl. Rena and I can take two steps and do a throw," said Baldwin. "It's her job to land it. It's my job to get her in the air."
Hinzmann and Parchem acknowledge that these Winter Games are for experience, not medals.
The two became partners after the 2003 season. They won the bronze medal at the 2005 national championships, but Hinzmann, 23, had skated the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Surgery last January followed by rehabilitation kept them off the Grand Prix circuit.
They won their Olympic berth last month when they finished second to Baldwin and Inoue.
"We understand that we're not the national champions, we're not medalist hopefuls, we're not world beaters," said Parchem, 28. "We just need to go out and show what we can do."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.