Before the serious business of figure skating starts next week, the Olympics is having the skaters offer a preview of what’s to come after Friday’s opening ceremony. The bonus, at least for the skaters involved, is that it comes with a gold medal.
Friday in Beijing brings the start of the Olympic team event, a hybrid competition in which 10 nations will send out skaters in all four disciplines. (Well, not all of the teams in all of the disciplines, it turns out; positive coronavirus tests have already wrecked the scoring chances — and thus the medal hopes — of the teams from Germany and Ukraine.)
The format makes the event like a mini-Olympics all in one. Each nation enters a man, a woman, a pairs team and a set of ice dancers, and each performs two routines, just as they do in their main competitions.
The team event is not only a medal event in its own right, though; it is also a chance for savvy skating fans to mine for clues about who seems to be in good form for the big events still to come. Countries typically send out their top skaters, so expect to see Nathan Chen of the United States, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, Kamila Valieva of Russia and other gold medal contenders. But countries can swap out up to two skaters or teams between programs, so none of the lineups are final yet. Four years ago, for example, Chen skated the short program for the Americans, and Adam Rippon took the free skate.
The men, the ice dancers and the pairs open the competition with their first performances Friday (Thursday night U.S. time). After a one-day break, the competition resumes on Sunday and Monday. The nation with the best combined score wins the gold.
That most likely will not be Germany or Ukraine. The Germans will not be able to score any points in pairs, as one half of its team, Nolan Seegert, tested positive for the virus, and Ukraine will receive no points in the men’s portion, as Ivan Shmuratko was ruled out for the same reason.
The event has been contested at the Olympics twice, and the medalists each time were Canada, Russia and the United States. Japan could also be a contender this time around.
Other events on Friday will do their best to avoid the opening ceremony. Mixed doubles curling continues with the United States seeking a win against Sweden after starting the competition with a 1-2 record. There are also two women’s hockey games on the schedule, although the big favorites, the United States and Canada, have the day off.