Team Figure Skating Debuts at Sochi Olympics

The Sochi Olympics officially begin with Friday night's Opening Ceremony. However, competition actually got under way Thursday with two of the new sports on the Winter Games schedule. One of them is Team Figure Skating.

Gymnasts can earn individual and team medals at a Summer Olympics, and now for the first time, figure skaters at the Winter Olympics will be able to do that as well.

Team Figure Skating features only 10 nations. They qualified for the Sochi Games based on their skaters' results at last year's World Figure Skating Championships and this season's International Skating Union's Grand Prix series, as well as other events.

Each team includes one man, one woman, one pair and one ice dancing couple. Competition takes place on three days. All entries do a short program that includes required elements, after which the field is cut to the top five who then do a free skate.

After each segment, the highest scorer earns his or her nation 10 points, second place gets nine points, third place eight, and so on, with 10th place worth one point. The country with the most total points from all its skaters combined wins the gold medal.

The first of the three days of action took place Thursday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi’s Olympic Park by the Black Sea.

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek of Italy compete in the team pairs short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on Feb. 6, 2014. /AP Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek of Italy compete in the team pairs short program figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on Feb. 6, 2014. /AP

Men's singles began the program and in the first group was home favorite Yevgeny Plyushchenko. As he took the ice the crowd repeatedly shouted out the popular Russian's nickname -- Zhenya.

The gold medalist at the 2006 Turin Olympics and silver medalist in both Salt Lake City in 2002 and in Vancouver in 2010 expressed his joy afterward to the reporters who patiently waited to speak with him.

"Guys, you know I am so happy with my performance today. That's four Olympic Games in my life, 12 surgeries. And after 12 surgeries I can compete, I can skate. And it doesn't matter what [the] result will be in the end, I’ve already won for myself," said Plyushchenko.

The Russian star was then asked how he felt physically and he showed his sense of humor. "I am feeling good. I am feeling good. I am in front of you, still alive, not bad," he said.

Plyushchenko's score was good enough for second place, earning Russia nine points. Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan was judged best, giving his nation 10 points, and Canadian Patrick Chan was third for eight points.

Jeremy Abbott of the United States fell after one of his jumps and finished in seventh place for four points.

The pairs also skated Thursday, finishing up about an hour before midnight. The Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov took the top spot, followed by Canada and China.

Combined with the men's scores, those same three -- Russia, Canada and China -- lead after the first of the three days.

Japan is fourth and the United States is in a three-way tie for the all-important fifth and last cut-off position with Germany and France.

Team figure skating resumes Saturday with the women and ice dancing short programs and the pairs free skate.

VOA News / Feb. 07, 2014 08:10 KST