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Team event good concept, but could be even better

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

The inaugural Olympic team skating event, which Russia won on Sunday night, appears to have been a great success. The new concept was well received by both fans and media.

Japan finished a disappointing fifth following subpar performances by Mao Asada, Akiko Suzuki and Tatsuki Machida, and will need to improve to be competitive in Pyeongchang in 2018.

Ice Time believes that the team competition can be improved with some alterations to the format to try and give it more balance.

First off, the countries entered should be required to use two skaters (one for the short program, another for the free skate) in both men’s and women’s singles. This embraces the team concept and will help level the playing field.

Japan used Yuzuru Hanyu in the short program and Tatsuki Machida in the free skate, while Russia relied solely on Evgeni Plushenko for both. To his credit Plushenko did a great job and helped secure the gold for Russia.

It was the same story on the women’s side, where Japan had Mao in the short program and Suzuki in the free skate, while Russia tabbed Julia Lipnitskaia for both. Once again, Lipnitskaia was outstanding in winning twice, but it just didn’t seem right.

Japan would likely have done better with Hanyu also taking part in the free skate, but I think it used the right approach by having four skaters take part.

Another issue to consider is the scoring breakdown once the number of countries has been trimmed from 10 to five following the women’s short program on the second day.

With only five teams remaining, should the one that finishes last in the free skate for pairs, short and free for singles, and free dance really receive six points?

Following the second day of competition, it seemed fairly apparent that Japan would have little chance at a medal and that is exactly what happened.

The stakes should be raised on the second and third days to make interest in the event increase. Sunday night all of the podium places had been decided before the free dance was even conducted, which was not good.

I think the International Skating Union must create a new formula to legitimately give teams — like Japan — the chance to come from behind. For example, the difference between winning and coming in second in one part of the event should not be one point. It should be something more significant, like five points (e.g. 20 points for the winner, 15 for second place, 10 for third place).

This will make the battle more intense, as the reward for coming in first, second or third will be much different than under the present system.

The skaters seemed to appreciate the benefits of taking part in the team event ahead of the individual competition.

“Now I fully know the ice and the arena and I can relax a bit and skate better in the individual event than I did today,” said Lipnitskaia after winning the free skate on Sunday night.

Travel plans: Lipnitskaia flew to Moscow on Monday where she will continue training for the singles next week. The 15-year-old said it is a practical move.

“I will be preparing there because we are used to that,” she said. “We are not getting too much ice time here, so my coach and I decided it will be better to go back to Moscow.”

Lipnitskaia did not seem unsettled by the plan.

“We are quite set up here. It will be easier to go back and come here again later,” she stated.

Warning issued: Plushenko, who won both the men’s short program and free skate in the team event, said Sunday that he has something special planned for the individual competition.

“I’m going to try two quads,” he said. “Today is just a warmup, I’m not skating with Yuzu or with Patrick (Chan) so we decided on no second quad today but just to skate clean.”

Plushenko then revealed his trump card for the singles.

“I have a triple axel/triple flip combination in my pocket, which is a great combination and one which no one else in the world has done.”

Interesting fact: Since the 1998 Nagano Games, when the host nation won five golds, Japan has won only one gold medal.

Hard to believe, but it’s true. Shizuka Arakawa’s victory at the 2006 Turin Games marks Japan’s lone gold in the past four Winter Olympics.