Jeremy Abbott practices ahead of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Feb. 5, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
The debut of the team competition in figure skating at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games has produced a unique bond among the 15 U.S. Olympic skaters.
Even before arriving in Sochi, the skaters would text each other daily.
They exchanged photographs of their pets. They talked about Sochi. They provided emotional support for each other. The Olympic veterans helped the Olympic rookies with advice.
“It’s been really cool to see that kind of camaraderie because I haven’t seen that in the past before,” said U.S. men’s skater Jeremy Abbott, who will be making his second trip to the Winter Games when he competes in Sochi. “I don’t think four years ago we could have done the same thing with the team that we had. It’s cool.”
Abbott, a four-time national champion, could have used that social-media support four years ago at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
“I was absolutely terrified,” Abbott says of his first Winter Games experience. “I was scared out of my mind.”
Those Olympic-sized jitters are gone now and Abbott will be the first U.S. skater to compete in the Olympic team competition Thursday, Feb. 6, when the event begins at Iceberg Skating Palace. The men’s short program is up first, followed by the pairs short program. Two-time U.S. pairs champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir will represent Team USA in the pairs portion of the team event.
After a day off for the Opening Ceremony, the ice dance and women’s short programs will take place Feb. 8. U.S. Figure Skating has not yet announced which skaters will compete in those segments of the team event.
Ten countries will participate in the team event but only the top five nations after the short programs will advance to the long, or free, programs. The final free program is ice dance Feb. 9. Winners are awarded 10 points, second place gets 9 points, and so forth. Scores from the short program round carry over to the long program and whichever country earns the most points wins gold.
The figure skating team competition is one of eight disciplines making its Olympic debut in Sochi. The others are women’s ski jumping, luge team relay, biathlon mixed team relay, halfpipe skiing, slopestyle skiing, slopestyle snowboarding and parallel slalom snowboarding. Snowboarding slopestyle also will begin competition Feb. 6, with the qualification rounds for men and women scheduled to be held at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
The addition of the team competition in figure skating means that for the first time, U.S. figure skaters may return home from Winter Games with two medals.
“If that were to happen, it would be incredibly exciting,” said Meryl Davis, who earned the silver medal in Vancouver with ice dancing partner Charlie White, and the two are considered heavy favorites for the gold medal in Sochi.
“It’s cool that we have a chance to bring home a medal as Team USA, not just as individual athletes,” Abbott said. “And also that we have a chance to bring home multiple medals. I think that’s really, really cool and very exciting.”
Once the team competition is over, Abbott will take aim at an individual medal. He finished ninth in Vancouver, but his preparation for the new Olympic season has been much different than four years ago. Every part of his training is more detailed.
In addition to his on-ice training, he has been meticulous about conditioning and nutrition with coaches Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen in Detroit. It paid off with his fourth national title at the Prudential 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, which included a record score of 99.86 in the short program.
“After having gone through the last Olympic experience, I’ve learned so much,” he said. “I really think I know how to handle the pressure this time. It’s a whole different ballgame for me. Last time I was really kind of jumping in blind. This time it’s very different. It’s very planned, it’s very organized.
“I feel like I’ve given myself the best opportunity to be calm and focused as I can be in Russia.”
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org.