I love figure skating. But this team figure skating event was a glorious waste of time.
The event was introduced to the Olympics this year, presumably as a way to grab more viewers and give athletes another chance to win a medal. Over time, its presence might encourage countries to build stronger skating programs across all disciplines to increase medal hopes. All noble reasons in theory, but there have been some problems with it in practice.
Here are my three reasons why this discipline needs to be eliminated right away:
1. Olympic figure skating is usually the most fun because it’s the most reckless — skaters push themselves the hardest they have in four years, creating moments that are rarely replicated. But so many performances over the past three days seemed to be on cruise control, as if skaters were waiting for something better.
And who could blame them? The top skaters all have intense competitions up soon; none we saw there is guaranteed an easy path to an individual gold medal. For example, the men’s short programs were generally sloppy. Some of the top competitors — Patrick Chan from Canada and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan — sat out the long program portion. This was a good strategy for them because their bodies aren’t used to extra competitions, and most skaters have trained to peak for the Olympics. No need for extra strain.
But while they were resting, we got a B-list parade of men skating in the long program made it one of the most unsophisticated Olympic competitions I had ever seen.
2. This event took way too long. Scheduling the event was so complicated that it needed to start before the Opening Ceremonies. The medalists could not be determined until nearly 60 programs were completed, over the course of three days. And none of these programs was distinct from what we’ll be seeing in individual competitions later this week.
Some might say argue team figure skating should be no different from team gymnastics. They are wrong. A floor exercise routine is about one-third of the length of a long program, and gymnasts are competing in multiple parts of the competition at the same time.
Even for me, a skating competition – skating, my favorite sport and my obsession – became laborious. I can imagine the poor casual viewers. Now they will watch the individual events and say to themselves, “Is this a repeat? I’ve seen this routine before. What is with NBC and their tape delays?!”
3. The rules are complicated and the scoring is arbitrary. By the time the ice dancers were able to skate, the medals had already been decided. This begged a few questions: Why are countries allowed to substitute athletes in the same event? Why are medals determined by translating a ranking system into another ranking system, instead of just combining competitors’ point totals? Why aren’t countries skating as a block, one right after another?
Perhaps this team figure skating concept can be saved with some new revisions. Maybe fewer countries should be allowed to participate, since most of them had no chance of medaling. Perhaps the skating union could mandate the skaters do a distinct program for team skating, or conjure some new event that hybridizes the traditional short and long program.