Figure Skating: From the Boards

No “I” in team, even in figure skating April 6, 2011

Filed under: 2010-2011 Season News — Tara Wellman @ 11:33 am
Tags: , , ,

Olympic sports are notorious for having rich, storied histories of individual achievement as well as individual agony. There are few more respected athletic goals than aiming for the right to climb to the top step of an Olympic podium and claim — medal of proof draped around your neck — that you are, in fact, the best.

There is, perhaps, no richer history of such personal achievement than that of the figure skating world. From standing completely alone at center ice, through every spin, every take off, every landing, to the finality of the victory or defeat, there’s a grand understanding of the individual-ness of it all. National and international rivals compete for one spot. And only one can win.

Until now.

It was announced today that the International Olympic Committee has accepted proposals for six new events to make their Olympic Debut in Sochi in 2014. Of those six events, the most relevant to this particular blog is that of the figure skating team event.

For a sport so focused on individual achievements, it’s interesting to imagine this new dynamic. Interesting…in a good way.

In 2009, a similar event was held. The World Team Trophy event that year featured the top six all-around national teams consisting of two men, two ladies, one pairs team, and one dance team. Each discipline squared off, and scores were combined for each country’s skaters, and the nation with the highest total won. Simple, right? (Though it appears the Olympic version will only have one man/lady.)

The 2009 World Team Trophy Champs - Team USA (Caydee Denney/Jeremy Barrett, Rachael Flatt, Caroline Zhang, Jeremy Abbott, Evan Lysacek, and Tanith Belbin/Ben Agosto)

That event was initially supposed to be analyzed along with this year’s World Team event in Tokyo, scheduled to follow the ISU World Championships in March. However, as we’re all now quite aware, Worlds was moved, but the Team Trophy was not.

Thus, the ISU decision was based on the one event from 2009, which will be the blueprint for how the Olympic event is organized.

I, for one, am pretty excited about this.

The skeptic in me hesitates to break with the rich, individual traditions of the sport, but the rest of me appreciates the added opportunities elite skaters will have to win an Olympic medal. Plus, who doesn’t love the chance to cheer for a whole team, not just one skater?!

There are certainly plenty of questions to be answered, though. Questions like how will nations select the team members? And will they be the same skaters who are competing for individual medals?

I would love for this to be an opportunity for additional skaters to earn a spot on the Olympic team…that said, I wouldn’t want it to have the feeling of a “B-team” event that skaters who didn’t grab one of the “top” spots was assigned to.

Then again, would a skater with chances at individual gold really want to add the stress of training for another event?

Also, if there are six competing teams as there were in 2009, will we see a constant circle of American, Canadian and Japanese dominance? Will it become a three-team race over and over again?

Some have already suggested that the simple solution to wanting a team event in the Olympics would be to add Synchro as a new discipline. These teams compete on the World stage, too…but are not given the shot at Olympic glory. This is another interesting possibility, but with a very different feel than the new team event.

Of course, there are no answers to these questions as of yet. But I can’t help but wonder.

What do you think?

What’s the biggest positive?

And what is your biggest concern?

Regardless, the team event is in, and at least one Olympic figure skating gold will be up to more than one individual!

Until then…

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9 Responses to “No “I” in team, even in figure skating”

  1. Pete Murray Says:

    According to current planning the top 10 national teams (tbd by results at the 2013 World Championships) will qualify for the team competition at the 2014 Olympics.

    Each team (as currently envisioned) will consist of 1 pairs team, 1 dance team, 1 man and 1 lady skater for a total of six skaters (made up of members of each nation’s olympic qualified skaters). This may be modified before the 2014 games to allow nations without a pair or dance team, man or lady competitor to add a competitor from one of the other disciplines to bring their team membership up to 6 skaters.

    ISU President Cinquanta (who worries that nations with several qualifiers in each discipline will not choose their best team members for the team competition) is pushing the IOC to schedule the team event first. Personally I think this is highly unnecessary and that the ‘Team Event’ should be held after all of the four disciplines have concluded.

    We will get a preview of this new Olympic Team Figure Skating format at the 2012 Youth Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.

    • Thanks for the additional info. Wonder how much of this will be altered before the actual event! I did forget to add in that the event will be “tested” at the 2012 Youth Winter Olympics. That should be an interesting test…

  2. Shirley Says:

    While I’m happy that figure skating will get another event at the Olympics, I’m disappointed that they’re creating an entirely new event, rather than adding Synchronized Skating to the mix. Synchro is, after all, a true “team” figure skating event, not just a conglomeration of 4 “individual” disciplines. This approach adds the event without having to accommodate a vastly increased number of athletes at the Games, but continues to exclude a lot of really dedicated and talented figure skaters from the Olympics. That’s too bad.

    • I find myself feeling the same way. I like the idea of the individual athletes competing together as a team, but I would love to see Synchro teams get the recognition for their work as well.

  3. Vlad Says:

    Hi Tara. Well, I’m one of the critics;)
    I think it won’t be the real Olympic event – it will be just one more ice show.
    You can read my complete thoughts about it here: http://worldskating.blogspot.com/2011/04/figure-skating-hockey.html

    – Vlad, World Figure Skating

    • Tried to reply to your blog post but it wouldn’t post. So here’s what I attempted to say!

      Interesting points. And in my skepticism, I tend to agree with you. However, I think IF this event is carefully crafted and not just thrown in as a chance for an additional medal, it could be just fine.

      As you saw on my own blog post, I have plenty of questions. But I think the team aspect could create an interesting dynamic in the Figure Skating event. Plus, if it catches on, it will become more and more competitive as countries begin to realize they have a chance to win another figure skating medal.

      I have often said of skaters like Michelle Kwan that it is a shame they have only one chance at Olympic gold, unlike skiers, speed skaters, etc. who are able to compete in multiple events.

      Yes, figure skating is rich in tradition and individuality, but IF (and it’s a BIG “if”) this event is handled appropriately and thought out carefully, this could be a valuable addition to the future of figure skating.

      We shall see…

      • Vlad Says:

        Well, will see, Tara. Maybe i’m too conservative;)
        I would love to see this event as a REAL skating competition.

        P.S. You can post comments on my blog. Maybe it was some little technical error with server.

      • Maybe I’m too optimistic! Haha. Hopefully they’re careful with it to make it “real” and valuable.

  4. CarleyB Says:

    First of all, the 2009 WTT event appeared to be a huge success. Evan Lysacek, the 2009 World Champion participated and was in favor of it becoming an Olympic event. After winning gold in Vancouver, I don’t know how he would feel about having to go out again and skate his programs in a team event. That is something I think they should ask the Olympic skaters. Skating after a World Championship and after the Olympic Championships are two different things. So that would be the first question to be addressed, who would be the skaters in the team event?
    I think a team event is a good idea in that it wold give figure skaters an opportunity to win more medals as other sports do. However, are Michael Phelps 8 gold medals more important than Evan Lysacek’s one gold medal? I wouldn’t think so. A figure skater’s body takes much more stress in training than does a swimmer, and putting oneself out there again and again and again in competition just isn’t possible, so the two can’t be compared.
    I like the idea of including instead the already team sport of synchronized skating. If anything would hold it back it would be the fact that there aren’t enough countries particpating. World Championships are held, but for the most part, at least until this year, Finland has dominated. I could see that the ISU and the IOC would like to see the sport more developed than it presently is.
    As we all know by now, it is going to happen. There are a lot of details to be worked out and how those will happen we don’t know. I think it would have to happen after the individual events so as to not overshadow them, but would the medalists be ready and willing to compete again, especially the ladies as they always compete last. A positive I could see is that it would be an event that could stir interest among countries by giving each country another event to cheer for.


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