Monday, February 10, 2014

Go Team!

It's all over...the Olympic team figure skating event. I suppose it's no surprise the Russians won the gold, with their mite figure skater and all. (My favorites are still Volosozhar and Trankov. Fan girl!) The U.S settling for bronze doesn't seem so bad. I have to admit, I was skeptical when I first heard about this event. It seemed redundant - isn't the country you represent your "team." This was nothing more than a marketing ploy. But if a marketing ploy can use its powers for good, maybe this team event concept will work once it gets past the growing pains.

In part, my reservations stemmed from the concern that skaters and coaches alike would treat the team event as a "morning skate" - you know, the light practice hockey teams have the morning before a game. And it seems in many respects they did:

Frank Carroll, speaking about Gracie Gold made it crystal clear, "She skated really, really well and that's sort of a preview before the actual event..."  [Emphasis mine]

"I haven't even had close to my best skate. I got that over with early and now it's time to focus on the individual event," remarked Jeremy Abbott.

Simon Shnapir (who I like) commented, "This was a great warm-up for us..."

"I needed that performance going into the individual event," observed Ashley Wagner (who I also like.)

Those comments don't exactly scream "I'm here for my team!"  And neither did the team cheering sections, which seemed horribly contrived. Hey guys! Camera's on us! Everyone cheer!! 

But as the competition progressed I started to warm up to the concept. I liked hearing skaters comment that they felt pressure to do well for the team.

Frank Carroll redeemed himself for me a bit when he said, "Most of the feedback from the kids was that they really liked it. There's a camaraderie about it that maybe didn't exist before. Our sport is so individualistic; it's all about me, me, me. If you don't do so well, maybe one of your teammates will bring it up. I think it's good for them."

"Having grown up playing hockey, I think you get a little extra something when you know others are relying on you..." noted Charlie White. (You had me at hockey, Charlie.)

Yes, figure skating (like most individual sports) is inherently selfish. How refreshing to see skaters thinking about each other. And not in a my-triple-triple-is-better-than-your-triple-triple kind of way. Perhaps the skaters cheering on their teammates as they received their scores was contrived, but as the event progressed, it seemed to become a little more genuine. Or maybe I just wanted it to be.

If a true spirit of "team" can evolve in this event, I think I'd really like it. And could that same spirit extend to other competitions throughout the season? I think I could be a much more loyal fan to a figure skating team than to individual skaters. (I like Troy Brouwer, but if he leaves the Caps, I'm still a Caps fan. See where I'm going with this?) I don't know, maybe that team spirit exists and I just haven't noticed it in the short time that I've been following skating.

For all that's wrong with skating (and I say this as someone who really does like the sport), I think this team concept has some real potential.


  1. Hi Mer: Glad to see that you're posting again. To me the team event is the missing link for figure skating. In my opinion, figure skating as the "gymnastics" of the winter games. As is the case in regular gymnastics, the team event allows the athletes to ease into competition, make a few mistakes, size up the competition, get accustomed to the venue, etc. before the direct heat of individual combat. And, as you noted, it does foster a collective, if somewhat fleeting, bond among the athletes before they go toe to toe against each other as well as competitors from other countries. Finally, the team event provides an opportunity for all team members to share a podium finish. Realistically, not all of our team will medal at the individual events. I would think that a bronze team medal will take the sting out of coming in fourth later on.

    1. Yes! I really like what you're saying here. Now, if we could only fix the flaw that both figure skating and gymnastics share - how to make a subjectively scored sport objective. There's some physics/statistics geek out there who will make it happen someday. Right?

  2. It may be true, but I thought it was in very poor taste to talk about the team event as a warmup. Better left unsaid.

    1. I saw a comment that perhaps holding the team event at the end would be better. I suppose that's a possibility. It will be interesting to see how the event gets tweaked going forward.