Figure skating team event adds drama to winter Olympics

The International Olympic Committee has introduced a new team figure skating competition, and it will be part of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

The event combines the thrill of individual performance with the collective nature of a team competition.

Per discipline, the team event owns the same structure and scoring rules as the individual competition. Each national team includes men's, women's, pairs and dance competitors skating one short and one free – or long -- program. After each team has completed its short programs in all the disciplines, the five teams with the highest total scores will move on to skate the long program portion.

Total team scores will then be computed to determine the winner.

This inaugural year, in terms of scheduling and athlete participation, there may be a few kinks to work out. As the team competition did not exist when this year's Olympians began their arduous training, it's safe to assume the dearly held dream of most is to win an individual medal.

The scheduling of the team event might serve to threaten that dream. Indeed the initial team events are set to take place the day before opening ceremonies, Feb. 6. The final team programs are to be performed Feb. 9, just two days before the individual pairs competition begins.

Perhaps to defy the prospect of a dream derailed by injury and fatigue, the U.S. Figure Skating Association at least allows "top-ranked" members of its national team to decide whether they wish to participate in one, two or no team competition programs. According to NBCOlympics.com, no matter how well they placed at the U.S. National Championships in January, not even the U.S. Olympic skaters know who among them is considered "top-ranked" by the USFSA.

In fact, as of a week before the event, the USFSA had not yet announced the team competition roster. The due date for the list is the morning of Feb. 5. Consequently, although U.S. National Champion Gracie Gold has expressed her intent to compete only once in the team event, she may not compete at all. The USFSA has the final say.

Thus, even before the skaters hit the ice, the element of team strategy appears to have come into play. One can only guess the association aims to enhance team prospects by putting off  roster selection to monitor and assess skater fitness level during practice sessions in the days leading up to Feb. 5.

Once the skating begins, event rules provide for even greater suspense. Each national team has the right to switch out its long program skaters in up to two disciplines after the short program is completed. For example, of Jason Brown (who may or may not be considered "top-ranked") opts and is selected to skate both the short and long programs, directly after his short program, the USFSA can elect to sub in a different skater for the men's long program.

The association must announce the switch within 10 minutes of the short program's end in that discipline.

Expectations are greatest among teams from the United States, Japan, Canada and Russia. Italy, France, China, Germany, Ukraine, Great Britain will also compete.

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