USA Sits in 2nd Place After Figure Skating Team First Day

A nation assembles its best skaters from each discipline – ladies, men’s, pairs, and ice dance – and competes for gold

Team USA is sitting in second place behind Team Canada after the first day of figure skating team event wrapped up Friday in Pyeongchang.

Canada and the Olympic Athletes from Russia are considered the favorites for gold, with the U.S. a strong contender to land on the podium. Team USA's Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim skated almost without a hitch during the pairs program, earning 38.41 for the technical score.

"I'm not really treating this like a competition, more of a celebration," Scimeca-Knierim said of her Olympic debut.

For the men's short program, Nathan Chen and his array of quads skated for the Americans but his debut was a disappointment.

Chen executed the first quadruple flip ever seen in Olympic competition, before tacking on a double toeloop in combination. His planned a second quad jump, a quad toe, but doubled it instead. It was invalidated, and then he fell on his triple Axel attempt.

"I’m really upset that I let the team down with that short program. Definitely not what I wanted to put out," Chen said.

He finished in fourth place in the phase, and earned Team USA seven points.

Teams are awarded points based on their finish in each discipline. The dance and ladies short programs are Sunday, when the field is trimmed to five nations. Each will then field a free skate program for each discipline, with medals decided Monday.

Figure skating is often thought of as an individual event, but the team event allows for a change in that mentality. It’s similar to the gymnastics team event in that all disciplines are contested and it’s an opportunity for a country to win another medal during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. The event is contested before the individual disciplines and lasts three days.

In first place is Shoma Uno, who is often seen as Japan’s No. 2 man behind reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu. Earlier in the week, Hanyu officially opted out of the team event to allow for the maximum recovery time after he injured his ankle in November. Japan is not expected to earn a medal in the team event.

Uno cracked the 100-point barrier with his first place score of 103.25 points. He earned 10 points for Japan. Alexei Bychenko from Israel is in second place and earned nine points for his country.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan from Canada finished third overall, earning eight points for his country.

For countries like the U.S., Canada and the Olympic Athletes from Russia, the team event offers an additional chance for a medal. For those from nations without as much depth, like France and Italy, it's a chance to work out the kinks in a competitive environment, fine-tuning their own programs for the individual events.

The powerhouse nations have closely guarded their lineups all week, a unique bit of gamesmanship for an otherwise individual sport, and have waited until the last possible moment to announce who will skate each event.

There is strategy in putting together the lineup — some individuals are better in short programs and others excel in the free skate. Plus, the pairs teams that are medal contenders must be cognizant of the fact that their individual event begins two days after the team event finishes.

Ten nations have qualified for the team competition, and each will send out skaters in each of the four disciplines in the short program. They receive points based on their finish — so margin of victory doesn't matter — with the top five teams advancing to the free skate.

Medals will be awarded Sunday after the final discipline, the ladies' free skate.

"It was so much fun to be able to be part of the team event in Sochi, to compete as a team and not just as an individual athlete," said Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond, a medal contender in the individual event.

"I'm focusing on my own programs," she said, "but to have the team atmosphere in the kiss-and-cry, and the podium, it's so incredible. And to be able to compete more times at the Olympics, I'm definitely not going to argue against it."

Sure, it doesn't carry quite the same prestige as individual events, and only a handful of nations will truly take it seriously. But the opportunity to compete in the Olympics is rare, and few skaters are willing to throw away the chance to have that feeling one more time.

The team event kicks off with the men’s short program and pairs’ short program on Feb. 8 in Primetime on NBC and NBCOlympics.com.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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