Figure skating is a Winter Olympics marquee event, drawing sell-out crowds and large ratings. While skaters have represented their country, they have competed as individuals (or pairs) against teammates, until now. A new figure skating competition, which debuts today at the Sochi Winter Olympics, will have skaters team up representing their country against others.
It is cool to be part of Team USA and actually be part of a team, something skaters near get to experience since they are normally competing against each other as four-time U.S. Men’s champion Jeremy Abbott noted in US News. Ashley Wagner, the 2013 and 2013 U.S. national champion had admitted it will be a strange to cheer for fellow American Gracie Gold, a rival in their normal event.
During the competition being held from Feb. 6 (the day before the Opening Ceremony) to Feb. 9, each country will field at least one man, woman, pair and ice-dance couple in short programs and free-skate events. First place in each of the four skating disciplines receives 10 points, second place 9 points, etc. The top five countries after the short programs will advance to the free skates. The team with the most points at the end wins the first event team figure skating Olympic medal. The skaters on the medal-winning teams will be the first Olympic figure skaters to potentially win two medals – in the team competition and their own individual event.
Not every country sending skaters to Sochi will be competing. Eligibility was based on how skaters finished at last year’s World Figure Skating Championships and other international skating competitions the past year. The countries that will participate, in order of their rank, are Canada, Russia, the U.S., Japan, Italy, France, China, Germany, Ukraine and Great Britain.
There is a actually strategy involved as each country’s figure skating federations determine which athletes to team up in the Sochi event. Typically a country will be strong in one type of skating but week in another. So, they need to balance demands of competing twice in the team competition as well as two to three times (depending on discipline) in their individual event. So, countries with several athletes may have one ladies’ skater perform their team short program, while another performs in the free. However, the teams can only make two such substitutions. In the other two events, the same athlete or pair must participate in both events, assuming the team qualifies for the finals.
The United States is one team that has already announced it will use the substitution strategy since both of its ladies’ competitors offer different strengths. Wagner will compete in the short program on Saturday, where as Gold, who recently beat Wagner to become 2014 national champion, is expected to compete in the longer free-skate program Sunday.
Canada is putting up the strongest team of figure skaters in Sochi with Patrick Chan, the men’s world champions the past three years; current world and Olympic champion ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir; as well as the fourth-ranked pairs team. They have a slight edge over Russia, another country with a strong collection of skaters in most areas. The U.S. is favored to win the bronze medal. Russia, Japan and the U.S. expect to rack up points in the ladies’ events; Canada, Japan and the U.S. in the men’s, The U.S. also has the reigning Olympic silver medalists and two-time world champions in ice dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
By Dyanne Weiss