SOCHI, Russia -- I like the new Olympic figure skating team competition, but it will take awhile to get used to seeing the kiss-and-cry zone so crowded.
Normally, you just see a skater and a coach staring up anxiously for the score, both seeming isolated from the rest of humanity. In the team competition, they are surrounded by supportive teammates. That is nice to see in what is usually such an individual sport. It's also very good for the skaters. If they perform well, they can exchange high-fives. If they perform poorly, well, they can console each other instead of just clutching a stuffed animal until its eyes pop out.
The U.S. team needed to console Jeremy Abbott after he fell during an opening quad attempt and missed on another jump in the men's team event Thursday. Abbott lowered his head in his hands when he saw his score, but his teammates patted him on the back and told him to cheer up.
"I loved having them there, but I wanted to do well for them," said Abbott, who dug his teammates into a hole with a seventh-place finish. "The fact that I couldn't do this for them is very hard. I got off the ice and I just apologized to them and I'm like, 'Guys, I'm so sorry.' I just wanted to do it for them. And every single one of them was like, 'Jeremy, we love you. It's fine. It's fine.' They were all extremely supportive."
But before we go any further, here's how the team competition works. You might want a pen and notebook.
Ten countries compete, and each sends out a male skater, a female skater, a pairs team and a dance pair in short and free programs. A country can have a skater perform in the short and free program (as Russia's Evgeni Plushenko will for Russia) or have different skaters perform in two events (as Jason Brown will in the men's free for the United States).
Performing the same routines they will in individual competition, the skaters are scored in the usual fashion to determine their placing. Then, skaters are awarded points based on their place: 10 points for first, nine for second, eight for third and so on.
After all the short programs are completed, the top five nations move on to the free program and the bottom five are eliminated. The team with the most points after the long program wins gold.
Got all that? If not, don't feel bad. Everyone is still coming to grips with how this team thing works and how it affects how skaters will bounce back for their individual competitions.
"It's so strange for all of us -- for the athletes, for the coaches," Canadian coach Brian Orser said. "All afternoon, I didn't know how to handle it. You can't tell them to hold back."
Nor should they hold back. One, they are skating for their country, not just themselves. Two, this competition is the only chance at a medal for many skaters.
Still, you get the sense the skaters are trying to figure out how to approach it all.
"It's kind of a different mindset," Abbott said. "I wanted to pull out a win for my team because I'm so honored to be part of the team and I love them so much. But we really planned out these Olympics in a very specific manner, and this program was to be a run-through to prepare myself for next week."
A run-through? That's hardly the attitude you want on your team, especially from your leadoff man.
Abbott's seventh-place performance and the fifth-place finish from pairs skaters Simon Shnapir and Marissa Castelli left the U.S. essentially tied for fifth place with 10 points heading into Saturday's competition.
Thanks to the world-champion dance team of Charlie White and Meryl Davis, the U.S. should be able to make the cut and advance to the final round. But there will be significant pressure on Ashley Wagner to keep the Americans close enough to medal. We all saw how Wagner handled the pressure at nationals last month, but we'll see how she fares this time and whether the U.S. gets a medal.
Regardless, the team event gives us more skating and more intrigue. It's a win-win for everyone.
"Either way, we're representing the United States and, as an added bonus, we get to compete as a team in the team event," Castelli said. "Overall, we're just here to represent the country as best we can."