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Figure Skating’s Team Challenge Cup Has Athletes Competing On Continental Teams For Boatloads Of Money

By John Blanchette | April 19, 2016, 4:15 p.m. (ET)

Part Ryder Cup, part NBA All-Star Game and part algebra test — it’s quite the hybrid that organizers of figure skating’s inaugural Kosé Team Challenge Cup have concocted.

But it’s also another stage to showcase some of the best skaters in the world, and that can’t be a bad thing.

Gracie Gold reacts after she competes in the women's free skate at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championship on Jan. 23, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Two reigning world champions and two current U.S. champions — Gracie Gold and Adam Rippon — will headline the three-day team-style event beginning Friday in Spokane, Washington, which serves as an encore of sorts to the grand prix and world championship season, or maybe a chance for those who didn’t do as well as they’d hoped at the world championships earlier this month in Boston to cleanse the palate a little.

However it unfolds, the event figures to be well received. Spokane has done nothing but set attendance records for skating events in the past, including an enduring standard of 158,170 for the U.S. championships in 2010.

But this one is a little different.

It pits three continents — North America, Europe and Asia — against one another in a team-scoring format involving all four skating disciplines: men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance. Hence the Ryder Cup analogy, enhanced by the presence of non-skating team captains — Kristi Yamaguchi for North America, Christopher Dean for Europe and Shizuka Arakawa for Asia, Olympic gold medalists all.

The participants were selected through a combination of placement in the world rankings and a fan vote, a la American all-star games.

And then there’s the way they’re keeping score.

Ashley Wagner performs during the women's short program at the 2015 ISU World Figure Skating Championships at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center on March 26, 2015 in Shanghai.

Friday’s opening session, for instance, is singles-only, with the three men and women on each team skating a short program for a combined score based on placement — though an individual champion will be crowned as well. The continental teams will compete for $132,000 in team prize money, as well as a men’s and women’s bonus pool.

That should make things interesting among the women, as reigning world champ Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia will face a challenge from Americans Ashley Wagner and Gold, who placed second and fourth at worlds. Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman joins them on Team North America.

Meanwhile, the Wagner-Gold rivalry sees another chapter after the 25-year-old Wagner — who’s been on the world scene for a decade — broke through with a spectacular free skate in Boston and leapfrogged Gold and Russia’s Anna Pogorilaya for the silver.

In addition, 2015 world championships medalists Satoko Miyahara of Japan and Elena Radionova of Russia figure to be in the mix, as well.

The men’s field includes five of the top 10 from Boston, but the wild card is 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown, who was sidelined with a back injury and was unable to defend his title. He petitioned to be added to the worlds squad but was denied. Brown and Rippon are joined by Canadian Nam Nguyen, the 2014 junior world champion, on Team North America.

The board will be wiped clean for Saturday’s competition, which will be split into two sessions — pairs and ice dancing in the afternoon, singles in the evening. Competitors will perform their free skates, and the aggregate-scoring format will combine the two sessions. All athletes competing that day will contest for team prize money worth $455,000, and a pairs and ice dance bonus pool will also be offered.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete in the free dance at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final at the Barcelona International Convention Center on Dec. 13, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.

Back-to-back world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada headline the pairs competition and will be joined by 2015 U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, and the North American team will be strong in the dance as well with Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States, who have a bronze and a silver from the last two world championships. 2014 world silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje join them.

An exhibition on Sunday wraps up the weekend.

In all, 14 world championship medalists are in the field of 42 athletes, competing for $617,000 in prize money.

“I think it’s going to add so much camaraderie and support among the skaters,” Yamaguchi said at the announcement of the Spokane event. “We saw them compete as a team at Sochi for the first time, and I’ve never seen the U.S. team become so bonded, so tight — it was incredible to see.”

And U.S. Figure Skating officials are hoping the Spokane launch will help the event become a staple on the international schedule every two years.

Ice Network will provide live streaming of the event.

John Blanchette is a sportswriter from Spokane, Washington. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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