The Edge
1:23 am
Fri February 7, 2014

In Team Event, Figure Skating Rivals Cheer For Each Other

Originally published on Fri February 7, 2014 9:26 am

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.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Last night in Sochi, a new even debuted at the Winter Olympics, team figure skating. Now skaters will not only be able to compete individually and in pairs, but a country's skaters can show off their moves in a team effort. That means nearly twice as much figure skating, which is great for ratings. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports on what this means for the athletes.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: There is a lot of drama in figure skating. Not necessarily on the ice - the judging, the personalities. Think Nancy Kerrigan or Tonya Harding. Here's something you don't hear all that often in the figure skating world.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Our next skater, representing the United States of America...

GLINTON: Wait for it. Do you hear it yet? Hold on.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS)

GLINTON: Among those in the crowd cheering are teammates. Simon Shnapir and Marissa Castelli are pair skaters and they've been a team of two for a while. But Shnapir says now, their former rivals have their backs.

SIMON SHNAPIR: You know, 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. It's such an individualized sport, that team support and really being in there for each other is something that we don't get to experience as much.

GLINTON: So here's the idea. Figure skating is not exactly a team sport in the way you think of it. I mean, they don't put all the figure skaters on the ice at once and then score them, though that would be great. They've been doing it on the professional circuit, but this is a first for the Olympics. Each individual and pair skates their program.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING)

GLINTON: And then they're scored.

Everybody gets a score. Then, those scores are ranked, then added together for a team total.

PAUL WYLIE: Figure skaters aren't really used to being in a team environment so, you know, when you're skating, you're skating for yourself.

GLINTON: That's Paul Wylie. He's a figure skating coach and he won the silver at the 1992 Olympic Games in Albertville, France.

WYLIE: There's a genuine sense here 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.

GLINTON: Wylie says by adding this event, the amount of skating that many have to do will 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 much more bang for the buck.

And fans get twice the sequins, twice the jumps. For the figure skaters, Wylie says they get twice the pressure, along with the first real chance to win two gold medals for figure skating.

WYLIE: 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. In fact, I think they might feel a sense of responsibility that pushes them harder.

GLINTON: And so these once-rivals have 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, 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.

MARISSA CASTELLI: "How Far We've Come" by Matchbox Twenty, there's a lot of pump-up music. What else do we have?

CHARLIE WHITE: There's inspirational music. There's some rap on there. I'm not really sure what it is.

CASTELLI: There's a lot of rap on there. Maybe we'll have a dance party later and we'll just hang out.

WHITE: After we're done, of course.

GLINTON: And at other Olympics, that's something they might not have done. Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Sochi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.