It was worth the wait.
O’Brien, 24, and Merriman, 25, made their Olympic debut in style, achieving 52.68 for their short dance.
“It was a season’s best score, and a season’s best performance,” O’Brien said, unable to wipe the smile off her face.
Skating to music from the Cotton Club, it was clear from the very first beat that they were having fun, which ultimately translated into a great performance.
“It felt great out there. Every time we did an element, it stuck and it hit perfectly. I knew when we were doing it that it was one of our strongest performances. To have that confirmed by the mark and then to qualify – wow,” she said.
"It's just the icing on the cake of 15 years of dreaming, hoping, waiting and wondering what it would be like. It's all of those things put together. It's the best experience ever."
Needing to finish in the top 20 for a chance to contest the free skate, the score locked the pair into qualification, with four pairs sitting below them on the standings.
“We’ve just been waiting to perform our free dance,” O’Brien said. “Our free dance is all about having fun, but we thought – let’s just have fun today in case we are not here tomorrow.”
“To be out there in the rink and know the weight there is on being at an Olympics was amazing,” Merriman added. “We wanted to put it all out there, show people how much work we have done. It was important for us to take it in as much as possible, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The performance was just rewards for the hard-working athletes from Sydney whose last Olympic campaign was derailed by illness.
“I’m just so happy that we can now call ourselves Olympians. We didn’t want to call ourselves Olympians until after we competed our short program. Now we can do that, and it’s such an honour to be part of such a small group of Winter Olympians in Australia.”
The icing on the cake for O’Brien and Merriman was being able to pull off such a great performance in front of their families.
“Mum has never ever seen me compete internationally,” said Merriman, whose mum, aunt and two brothers came to Sochi. “I knew where mum was in the crowd and I waved to her at the end. It was really exciting to know that she was there watching and to finally lay down a good program for her.”
“I chose not to look for my family,” O’Brien added. “My dad is quite easy to spot with his white hair! My mum hasn’t been to an international competition of mine since 2004, so it was so nice to have her here.”
O’Brien’s parents watched proudly along with her younger brother who is an aspiring athlete in short track skating.
The defending Olympic Champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, delivered a stunning performance to put them on top of the leaderboard with a score of 76.33.
In the final group of the night, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia used the vocal home-crowd to their advantage to score a huge personal best of 73.04 and rocket them into second position.
They were the last couple to skate and the most highly anticipated, so when the USA's Merly Davis and Charlie White came onto the ice, the crowd roared. The silver medallists in Vancouver, Davis and White are the current World Champions and have won an astounding 14 of the last 20 Championships contested in this event. Skating to music from My Fair Lady, the pair from Oakland County in Michigan, delivered a near flawless short program earning a new season's best score of 78.89 - a new World Record. The score took them to first position, with Virtue and Moir relegated to second and Ilinykh and Katsalapov in third.
The free skate will take place on Monday 17 February, Day 10 at 7.00pm local time (2.00am AEDT Tuesday).
O’Brien and Merriman will be chasing another season’s best score when they perform their circus inspired free program.
Alice Wheeler | sochi2014.olympics.com.au