In Team Event, Figure Skating Rivals Cheer For Each Other

February 7, 2014

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 will not only be able to compete individually and in pairs, but skaters from each country compete as teams. That means nearly twice the figure skating, which is great for ratings. But is it good for the athletes?

Simon Shnapir and Marissa Castelli are pair skaters who’ve been a team of two for a while. But Shnapir say that now, their former 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’

So figure skating is not exactly a team sport in the way you think of them. They don’t put all the figure 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.

So this is where figure skating gets a tad confusing: Everybody gets a score. Then, depending on the score, those scores are ranked, then added together; 1st place gets 10 points.

But figure skaters aren’t used to being in a team, says Paul Wylie, a figure skating coach who won the 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], 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 by adding this event, the amount of skating that many have to do is double, because most skaters will perform programs for the team and then as individuals. Olympic figure skating is among the most popular events during the Winter Games; it’s always a ratings bonanza. Now NBC can count on two times the ratings, and much more bang for the buck. Fans get twice the sequence, twice the jumps. For the skaters, Wylie says they 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,” he says. “It could be other people’s gold medal that you’re throwing away. In fact, I think they might feel a sense of responsibility that pushes them harder.”

And so these once-rivals 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 Twenty, 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.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

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