GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Figure skating remains one of the main attractions at any Winter Olympics with its gravity-defying leaps providing plenty of drama, yet action on the rink kicks off on Friday with its newest and least-known event - the team trophy.
Debuting four years ago in Sochi and making its second appearance at Pyeongchang, all four traditional disciplines have both short and free skate programmes, with points awarded based on finishing positions going towards an overall team total.
Russia topped five of the eight skates to claim gold in 2014, ahead of Canada and the United States.
The event not only gives skaters a chance to both win another medal while refining their programmes ahead of individual competitions later in the Games, but also gives fans another opportunity to watch their favourites perform.
“I’m ready for anything and I’m going to be training really hard,” U.S. skater Adam Rippon told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “If I’m in the team event, that’s part of the training to get ready for the men’s event.”
Some countries wait until the very last moment to announce their teams, while others, such as Canada and Italy, have already been selected but skaters insist the camaraderie of working together as a group was extremely welcome.
“I get to experience another chance or another great moment at the Olympics in the team event. We have a great chance, we have a great team,” Canada’s Patrick Chan told reporters on Tuesday.
“The Canadian team... we’re individuals but we all have a quiet confidence. We are connected. We just know we have our jobs to do as individual events, we also have a great chance and we have a great team.”
Each team is almost always comprised of skaters that have also qualified for the individual events but occasionally a special “quota” member may be selected.
U.S. skater Nathan Chen, a strong favourite for gold in the men’s event, got his wish and was chosen for the team trophy.
“We only get one shot at the ice, so to add another shot, I think that’d be a great experience,” he told reporters after practice on Wednesday.
“Good to just put the programme out there before I have to do the individual.”
The chance to cheer on team mates, and be cheered on by them, clearly appeals to many skaters who are more accustomed to long, lonely hours on the ice.
“I would love to be in the team event,” said U.S. skater Mirai Nagasu, who took part in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics but was left off the bronze-winning U.S. team for Sochi.
“I think some things that I saw in Sochi that I didn’t get the opportunity to have in Vancouver was the team holding hands with arms in the air and medals around their necks,” she added.
“As a solo skater, this sport can be really lonely and so to have that opportunity at the Olympic Games is amazing.”
Among the standard major skating nations such as Japan, the United States, Canada and Olympic Athletes from Russia, are more unusual participants, such as Israel.
First up is the men’s singles short programme on Friday morning, followed by the pairs.
Reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Elaine Lies; Editing by John O'Brien