The Olympic opening ceremony is tomorrow, but competition has already started with today's debut of team figure skating. The field of American skaters is much weaker than in the past, and the new event could infuse some much-needed intrigue to the premier sport of the games.
Team figure skating is similar to the Summer Games' team gymnastics: Each of 10 countries chooses one man, woman, pairs team and ice dancing team to compete in a short program or dance. Participants are scored regularly, then ranked. The top-scoring individual or couple receives 10 points, the second-place gets nine, and so on. The overall team score combines the points from the four categories, with the top-five countries advancing to the free skate or dance.
As with any event in its infancy, team figure skating will probably contain a bit of trial and error, as nations work on strategies and make use of the two substitutions afforded between rounds. Russia and Canada are expected to pose the biggest threat to the U.S. quest for gold.
Although the Winter Olympics aren't quite the draw as the Summer Games, they carry the potential for ratings success. According to a recent Associated Press-GfK poll, more than half of Americans plan to watch or follow the Sochi Games. And 24 percent of respondents said figure skating was their favorite sport, making it the most popular event of the competition.
The U.S. team will be led by 22-year-old Ashley Wagner in the women's short program and 2014 national champion Gracie Gold in the long. On the men's side, four-time national champion Jeremy Abbott will carry the short, while 2014 national silver medalist Jason Brown will anchor the free skate. Wagner was chosen for the team particularly for her international experience in the team event, having led the U.S. to a world team championship last year.
The home crowd, of course, will be behind the favored Russians, who are headlined by three-time individual Olympic medalist Evgeni Plushenko. The Sochi locals could be in for a month of national dominance on the ice.
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