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U.S. hopes high for Olympic team event

Raith sees chances for more medals, TV time

The U.S. team won the top honors at the inaugural World Team Trophy in 2009.
The U.S. team won the top honors at the inaugural World Team Trophy in 2009. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/06/2011) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced six new events will be added to the 2014 Sochi Games, with figure skating winning one of the coveted slots.

The addition of a team event creates more chances for U.S. athletes to earn medals and more memorable performances for fans to enjoy, said U.S. Figure Skating Executive Director David Raith.

"This is a big plus for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), for our organization, and really for our skaters; for the first time they have a chance to win more than one medal," he said.

"I think this is going to add probably three days more [figure skating] programming for Olympic television networks, so it's that much more of the sport on TV. Fans can root for a country, not just for individuals. Athletes like a team event because it creates a different mindset; they earn points for a team, not individual medals. If someone has a not-so-great skate, someone else can pull out a great skate to help the team."

Although optimistic, Raith stressed that U.S. Figure Skating awaits a comprehensive plan.

"Of course we have questions. Will the event be held at the beginning of the Games? At the end? In the big picture, though, we support it."

An Olympic team figure skating event has long been a goal of ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta. At the 2008 World Championships in Gothenberg, Cinquanta announced the creation of the ISU Team Trophy, to be held every two years.

A U.S. team featuring Evan Lysacek; Jeremy Abbott; Rachael Flatt; Caroline Zhang; Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto; and Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, won the inaugural team event in 2009. The 2011 ISU Team Trophy, scheduled to be held in Japan this month, was cancelled due to the effects of that country's earthquake.

The IOC announcement specifies the Olympic team event will consist of each of the four figure skating disciplines, but does not specify the number of skaters that may compete. Some countries may wish to use different skaters for the short and long programs.

"One of the questions would be can a team use just one athlete [or couple] per discipline, or can substitutions be made," Raith said.

"Preliminarily, we've heard there will be a short and long program, but we also hear that teams can substitute different athletes if those athletes are already there at the Olympics. There are a lot of questions still, but I am confident they can be determined to the benefit of all."

While the gymnastics team event has long been a popular standout at the summer Olympics, Raith hopes the figure skating event will take a different approach. In gymnastics, a qualifying round is held, with the top eight countries advancing to the final.

"One thing we don't like about the gymnastics' team event is the qualifying aspect," he said. "We would like this team event to stand alone."

Raith said that many of these details have been discussed at various ISU meetings and in emails, and federations have weighed in on how the event would work.

"Discussions came up at the ISU Congress in Barcelona [in June 2010] and have been ongoing.

"There is an ISU Council meeting this week, the world championships are in three weeks, and there is an ISU office-holders meeting in early June, so we would expect more concrete details no later than the end of June."

Raith hopes more figure skating events are added to the Olympics in the future.

"A synchronized skating event would create even more medal opportunities for the athletes," he said.