Team event scores perfect marks
In its Olympic debut, team figure skating earns rave reviews from competitors
SOCHI, Russia -- Figure skating doesn't get everything right. I mean, why must competitors continue to insist on skating to the theme music from "Schindler's List"? And could the scoring system possibly be any more complex?
But the sport nailed a perfect 6.0 with the inaugural Olympics team competition. (I guess that would be a world-record 295.27 under the new math.) Hey, even Russian President Vladimir Putin dropped by to see his country win Sunday's final by a dominating 10 points over second-place Canada.
"I know we've really enjoyed being a part of it and would love to see it stick around."
Me too. Team sports are almost always more exciting than individual events. More athletes create more storylines, more possibilities, more drama. Plus, more team caps and jerseys! That's why the most popular sports in the U.S. are all team sports.
"Most of the feedback from the kids was that they really liked it," veteran coach Frank Carroll said. "There's a camaraderie about it that maybe didn't exist before. Our sport is so individualistic; it's all about me, me, me. If you don't do so well, maybe one of your teammates will bring it up. I think it's good for them."
It most definitely is, and in many ways.
First, skaters who have only a slim or no chance at individual medals, such as Jeremy Abbott, now will take home a team medal. And great skaters -- such as 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, who guaranteed Russia the gold with her dazzling performance in the women's free program -- could take home two.
Until this Olympics, the maximum number of gold medals awarded in figure skating was four, one in each discipline. No matter how dominant the individual skater, only one medal was ever possible. Think how bland the photos of Michael Phelps would look if he had only one gold medal dangling over his bare chest.
As Evgeni Plushenko's coach, Alexei Mishin, said, figure skating is a powerful, beautiful sport that deserves more medals. "Just four medals? Ridiculous. Five medals better."
The team event also means figure skaters truly are skating for their country rather than largely for themselves. America's Jason Brown said skating with someone else's medal hopes on the line as well as your own definitely adds pressure but that this is compensated by the strength you gain from the support of teammates.
"I do feel that pressure because I want to do the best I can and contribute to the team and get a medal," Brown said. "But when I hear them screaming from the booth, you feel that rush of support and that feeling of home.
"I think it's a great time to get that camaraderie and unite as a team before we all split and compete individually."
Plus, it gives the skaters a chance to hone their routines under Olympic pressure while better introducing viewers to the top skaters from around the world.
"Think of other Olympics when they have the preliminary round," Carroll said. "You make it to the final, and it's a whole new ballgame. Who is really going to run the fastest? Now it's like who is really going to skate the best."
The scoring system needs changing, though. As it stands, the short program is essentially more important than the free program. That's because the difference between finishing first and last in a free program is just four points (team points range from 10 to 6), compared to nine points in the short program (team points range from 10 to 1).
That steals some drama because teams' fortunes can rise or fall only so much. Russia's gold, Canada's silver and America's bronze were already mathematically assured Sunday before the final dance routine started.
"I didn't do a whole lot of the math myself," White said. "What we really focus on as skaters heading into it is just putting out the best performance we can. We feel like it was very drama-filled from start to finish. But from a numbers standpoint, I think it's really hard to evaluate.
"I think this was a great first Olympic team event, something that will go down in history and that we're proud to be a part of. But who knows, maybe they will tweak it a bit. We'll see."
Oh, and one more thing to tweak: As I've suggested before, to really set this competition apart, I would like to see the skaters wear team uniforms rather than their normal costumes. Or at the very least, require them to wear sequins, rhinestones and feathers that reflect the national colors.
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