GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) – The only thing missing from Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan’s resume is an Olympic gold medal.
He’s won three world championships. Two grand prix finals. Twice he’s stood on the second step of an Olympic podium, an infuriating few inches from what would be the pinnacle of his career.
So even though the 27-year-old Chan is focused on the men’s competition at the Pyeongchang Games, he is also aware of the tremendous opportunity presented by the team event. It begins Friday with Canada favored to win gold after finishing second in its debut four years ago at the Sochi Games.
“The medal is what you make of it,” Chan said, when asked whether a team gold medal would in some way be lesser than an individual gold. “It may not be the same for every skater or another teammate, but for me at this point in my career, anything at this point is a bonus.”
Indeed, the way skaters are approaching the team competition varies widely.
There are those from Canada, the U.S. and the Olympic Athletes from Russia that are eying gold, or at least a spot on the podium. It’s an opportunity to start the Olympics on a high, and potentially build up momentum they can carry into the rest of the games.
Then there are those from France and Italy, countries that have medal hopefuls in individual events but not enough depth across the four disciplines to realistically compete for a team medal.
For them, it’s a chance to work out the kinks in a competitive environment, fine-tuning their own programs for what really matters in the coming days.
“We’re really focused on our personal event,” said Guillaume Cizeron, who with Gabrielle Papadakis are two-time ice dance world champions and among the favorites in that competition.
“I feel like the team event is a great opportunity for team spirit and what the games represent,” Cizeron said, “but our main focus is obviously the individual event.”
The powerhouse nations certainly seem to be putting more emphasis on the team event.
They’ve been closely guarding their lineups all week, a unique bit of gamesmanship for an otherwise individual sport, and have waited until the last possible moment to announce who will skate each event.
There is strategy in putting together the lineup – some individuals are better in short programs and others excel in the free skate. Plus, the pairs teams that are medal contenders must be cognizant of the fact that their individual event begins two days after the team event finishes.
“We know that our country isn’t in the favorites to medal, so it makes things different,” Papadakis said. “Our main goal is the individual event. It may be different if we were going for a medal.”
Ten nations have qualified for the team competition, and each will send out skaters in each of the four disciplines in the short program. They receive points based on their finish – so margin of victory doesn’t matter – with the top five teams advancing to the free skate.
Medals will be awarded Monday after the final discipline, the ladies’ free skate.
“It was so much fun to be able to be part of the team event in Sochi, to compete as a team and not just as an individual athlete,” said Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond, a medal contender in the individual event.
“I’m focusing on my own programs,” she said, “but to have the team atmosphere in the kiss-and-cry, and the podium, it’s so incredible. And to be able to compete more times at the Olympics, I’m definitely not going to argue against it. I just love the team aspect of it.”
Her teammate, Gabrielle Daleman, was part of the Canadian team that won silver in Sochi.
“It was a completely new event for all of us,” Daleman said. “One night we were standing on the podium and the next night we were competing again. We had just won a medal, we just competed. It was weird. But I think we’ll be more ready, ready to compete as much as necessary.”
That appears to be the prevailing sentiment to the team competition.
Sure, it doesn’t carry quite the same prestige as individual events, and only a handful of nations will truly take it seriously. But the opportunity to compete in the Olympics is rare, and few skaters are willing to throw away the chance to have that feeling one more time.
“We are a beautiful team that has been competing together for so many years. Most of us are 30 and we are very proud of that,” Italy’s Carolina Kostner said. “Most of us have seen each other grow up, basically, and support each other along the years with changes and everything.
“So we’re actually quite motivated to take it on together,” Kostner added. “I’m very excited and very honored to represent my country.”