Sochi Olympics debuts team figure skating 32 hours before Opening Ceremonies

Team figure skating, the new perfect-for-TV Olympic event, got underway Thursday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace. Like Davis Cup and Fed Cup in tennis and Ryder Cup in golf, athletes accustomed to a solitary sport get a rare opportunity to root for compatriots and win a team medal.

In the new format, 10 countries each send out a man, a woman, a pairs team and a dance team during three days and they are awarded 10 points down to one point on short and long programs. The top five teams after the short program advance to the long program.

The men and pairs competed Thursday, 32 hours before the Opening Ceremonies. Russia is in the lead with 19 points, followed by Canada (17), China (15), and Japan (13).

After its two weakest events, the U.S. has 10 points and is tied for fifth with Germany and France.

Russian pair Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov posted the highest score of the night and got a huge ovation from the home crowd, as did Evgeny Plushenko of Russia, the three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 champion.

Plushenko, 31, proved he is not washed up as he delivered an exciting program set to tango music. He was slowed by back surgery last year and was a controversial selection to the team, but his adoring fans chanted “Ross-ee-ya! Ross-ee-ya!” as they waved Russian flags. He kept Russia in gold-medal contention by finishing second behind Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. Patrick Chan of Canada was third.

“The competition just started, and it doesn’t matter because this Olympics, I am already a winner being in the Olympics four times,’’ Plushenko said. “It’s hard to compete at home, but sometimes it helps. The people screaming and shouting, I was a little bit dizzy.’’

U.S. national champion Jeremy Abbott fell on his quad and didn’t attempt a triple axel, so he finished seventh. “I think I just needed to shake off some demons,’’ Abbott said. “We all know I have a lot of demons.’’

In pairs, U.S. skaters Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir placed fifth.

The women and dance teams do their short programs Saturday, and the pairs perform their long programs. The competition culminates Sunday with the long program in men’s women’s and ice dance.

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