SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Brian Orser has won two Olympic silver medals and coached a skater to gold. All that experience did little to prepare him for the sport's newest twist.
Team figure skating debuted Thursday at the Sochi Olympics, and Orser wasn't quite sure what to think as coach of one of its top competitors — 19-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. The same was true for many of the skaters, who were quick to rationalize their performance, good or bad.
The biggest intrigue on Thursday came in speculating what the results on the first night of the team competition portend for the upcoming individual events. Canadian three-time world champion Patrick Chan called the night a "trial run" after his shaky short program. U.S. champ Jeremy Abbott used the term "run-through" after he crashed into the boards on a fall on his opening quad.
Russia's Evgeni Plushenko was thrilled with his triumphant return from injury, but in case he flops the rest of the way, he proclaimed: "Doesn't matter what kind of results it's going to be for me, at the end of this Olympics, I already win for myself."
After Orser's protege, Hanyu, sparkled in the short program, the coach noted that "there were a couple of little scratchy moments." "You know what?" Orser said. "That's just the way I want to have it right now."
So perhaps some skaters built confidence, while others had theirs cracked for their next short program in a week. Or maybe they shook off the cobwebs and found motivation. The team competition takes a day off Friday for the opening ceremony, returning Saturday with the women's and ice dance short programs and the pairs free skate. It wraps up Sunday with the men's, women's and ice dance long programs.
The ten countries in the team event earn 10 points for finishing first in a program, nine for second, and so on. Russia leads with 19 points, while Canada has 17 and China 15. The Americans are tied for the fifth-most points with 10, technically resting in seventh because of tiebreakers, but have better balance than many of the teams ahead of them — aside from the favored Russians and Canadians. In particular, they boast the reigning ice dance world champions in Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
The pairs world champs, Russia's Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, looked vulnerable during the Grand Prix season but had that golden glow again Thursday with the best marks in the short program. Taking advantage of a rule that allows each country to swap out skaters between the short and long programs in two of competition's four disciplines, they plan to skip the free skate Saturday.
Many of the top men plan to do the same, Canada's Chan among them. He was undaunted by Hanyu's 97.98 points, confident he can top that with a clean skate in the upcoming single's competitions. Abbott, meanwhile, will be looking to break through for the first time at a major international event.
"I think I just needed to work out the rust, shake off the demons," said the four-time U.S. champion. "We all know I have a lot of demons."