Team Figure Skating – will it catch on?

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Team Figure Skating – will it catch on?
Team Figure Skating – will it catch on?

SOCHI, Russia – There may come a day when Team Figure Skating – a new coed, four-discipline, three-day event that isn't a plot twist of a Will Ferrell movie – matters like Team Gymnastics does.

Thursday, its debut in Olympic competition, probably wasn't that night. We shall see. Maybe the do-or-die pressure that makes figure skating memorable will ratchet up when the preliminary rounds continue Saturday or the medals are on the line Sunday. Maybe it'll take a few Winter Games to be a big deal.

Right now, while team goals were certainly mentioned by various competitors, it also felt like they were using the event as a chance to tune up for individual events that have traditionally defined Olympic success.

Team USA's Jeremy Abbott performed poorly in the men's short program – including a fall – and looked distraught while waiting for his scores, a 65.65 that left him seventh out of ten competitors, yet he found a positive spin. At least he may have gotten a bad skate out of the way before individuals.

"I'm very sad for my teammates, but I'm very excited for my prospects," Abbott said.

America's pair champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir followed Abbott later in night with a somewhat disappointing 64.25. That leaves the US in seventh place overall and in need of a big rally.

The five countries with the most points advance to the second round. The competition continues Saturday when the powerful women, including Ashley Wagner of the United States, and ice dancers take the stage.

Despite the low score, Castelli and Shnapir echoed Abbott's sentiments, that this mattered, but …

"It was partly like a warm-up," Shnapir said.

There is no question the skaters wanted to do better. Upon leaving the ice Abbott profoundly apologized to his teammates, who were in the front row watching.

He also tried to spin it as a positive, getting a bad performance out of the way and that it might help him prove he isn't the same guy who traditionally comes up short in international competitions.

"We planned this as a run thru," Abbott said. "I expected a much better run thru, but again it was a run thru and a step toward my next goal."

In fairness, there probably isn't much else he could say. And he was hardly the only skater expressing such a sentiment.

[Related: U.S. down but not out in team figure skating event]

Russia's Evgeni Plushenko came out and skated well in front of an excited home crowd. He said he was most happy about just making his fourth Olympics.

"I already win for myself," said Plushenko, the men's overall champion back in 2006.

Perhaps everyone just needed to learn how to speak as a teammate. Figure skating is a solo pursuit (obviously pairs involve two people, but they compete as one) and this entire concept isn't just new but a bit foreign. It isn't unusual for skaters from the same country to have bitter and deep rivalries (see Nancy Kerrigan v. Tonya Harding).

That's true in gymnastics also, but those competitors also grew up watching teams compete for gold and glory. The American women of the London Games put everything aside and were incredibly cohesive and supportive. They cared.

This here is a culture shock.

"I'm a little curious to see how it comes out," said Yuka Sato, Abbott's coach. "I also think it's good for the skaters to team up because figure skating has been such an individual sport. Why not?"

Exactly, why not?

Yes, the coed nature of this and the inclusion of the dancers are a bit strange. They all compete on frozen water, but have little in common … including, of course, gender.

It could also be written off as a copycat move of gymnastics, but the Winter Games is forever seeking a new spark to get them on par with the bigger, more popular Summer Olympics. This would qualify as the sincerest form of flattery.

[Related: Hanyu shines, Plushenko sets personal best in Olympic return]

If nothing else it gets more figure skating on television, three more nights for the winter's most reliable ratings winner. It's not like there was anything else going on here Thursday.

It's certain that TVs in the US will tune in Saturday, when Wagner is skating the women's short program. If they advance, Gracie Gold will do the long program on Sunday. At the very least it introduces the stars of the sport in advance of the still main event: individual medal competition.

"We've got this unique opportunity to skate more than once," Shnapir said.

So they rolled this out the day before the actual opening ceremonies, packed the Iceberg Skating Palace and cranked up Tango de Roxanne, Lillies of the Valley and Guns ‘'N' Roses "November Rain" (seriously, the German pairs rocked it). Everyone seemed to have a good time.

So it's either a chance to win an extra gold, or a chance to have another moment on Olympics ice, or it's just a roll of the dice that this will somehow take.

"I wanted to be a part of the team," Abbott said. "I [also] wanted to have as much opportunity as I could."

Time will tell which is more important for the skaters.

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