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Friday, February 7, 2014 - 6:30am

In Team Event, Figure Skating Rivals Cheer For Each Other

Updated: 9 months ago.
Marissa Castelli (front center) and Simon Shnapir (front right) of the U.S. wait for their scores in the pairs short program Thursday in Sochi. With them are coach Robert Martin and teammates (back, from left) Jeremy Abbott, Charlie White and Meryl Davis.

There's always a lot of drama in figure skating, and not necessarily on the ice. There's the judging and the personalities think Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

But Thursday in Sochi, a new event debuted at the Winter Olympics: team figure skating. Now skaters compete not only individually and in pairs, but also as teams of skaters from each country. That means nearly twice the figure skating, which is great for ratings. But is it good for the athletes?

Americans Simon Shnapir and Marissa Castelli are pairs skaters who've been a team of two for a while. Shnapir says now their former American rivals have their backs.

"You do your own programs, but then everyone's doing it for the benefit of the team, and it's not something that we're used to in this sport," Shnapir says. "It's such an individualized sport: Team support and really being in there for each other is something that we don't get to experience as much."

'When You're Skating, You're Skating For Yourself'

But team figure skating isn't exactly like many other team sports. They don't put all the skaters on the ice at once and score them, though that would be great.

Each individual and pair skates their program, the crowd applauds, and then they're scored. This is where it gets a tad confusing: Everybody gets a score. Then those scores are ranked and added together. First place gets 10 points.

Figure skaters aren't used to being on a team, says Paul Wylie, a figure skating coach who won silver at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France.

"When you're skating, you're skating for yourself," he says. "There's a genuine sense [in team figure skating that] the medal is on the line, and you are really trying not to let your team down which is a very different feeling than the individual side of it, which is really all about you."

Wylie says adding this event means many athletes will be skating twice as much, because most skaters will perform programs for the team and then as individuals.

Figure skating is already a ratings bonanza it's among the Winter Games' most popular events. So Olympics broadcaster NBC can count on two times the ratings, and much more bang for its buck. Fans get twice the sequence, twice the jumps. And, Wylie says, skaters get twice the pressure along with the first real chance to win two gold medals for figure skating.

"When you have other teammates that are sitting there pulling for you, and you know that whether you land the quad triple or do a quad double, it's not a throwaway it could be other people's gold medal that you're throwing away," he says, "in fact, I think they might feel a sense of responsibility that pushes them harder."

So these once-rival American skaters have had to spend time figuring out how to act like a team. There's a captain, Charlie White, who's been organizing events for team building: a game night and a movie night. They're even kicking it old school by coming up with a mixtape. Marissa Castelli says it's not a playlist; it's an actual CD with tracks, like "How Far We've Come" by Matchbox 20, and a lot of pump-up music and rap music.

"Maybe we'll have a dance party later and hang out," Castelli says.

"After we're done, of course," White adds.

At another Olympics, that's something they might not have done.

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