Ice Network

Abbott, Castelli and Shnapir to kick off team event

Confident Abbott plans to skate and march, then rest; U.S. pair undecided
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With Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir skating the pairs short program and Jeremy Abbott skating in men's, Team USA could get off to a formidable start in the team event. -Jay Adeff

Jeremy Abbott will skate his short program in the team event Thursday night at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. He may return to the team competition with his free skate Sunday, but he won't know until Saturday, when U.S. Figure Skating is required to announce its skaters for the event.

Got that? Neither does Abbott, but it's all good.

Men and pairs are first up in the new Olympic figure skating team event. Wednesday, U.S. Figure Skating announced its pairs champions, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, and men's champion, Abbott, will compete. 

The selections are no surprise. Castelli and Shnapir, and Abbott, easily won the short program events at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston last month. Castelli and Shnapir earned 6.63 points more than U.S. pairs silver medalists Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay, while Abbott outscored U.S. men's silver medalist Jason Brown by more than 12 points.

The deadline for naming competitors in the ladies and ice dance shorts is Feb. 7, while decisions on the pairs free skate must be made by Feb. 8. The deadline for entries in the men's, ladies and ice dance frees is Feb. 9.

U.S. Figure Skating gave its top-ranked skaters the choice of skating the short program, free skate or both, but since countries can only split programs between skaters in two of the four disciplines, Abbott doesn't know yet whether he will skate once or twice.

"We did it by ranking of event, so Meryl [Davis] and Charlie [White] got first choice, and then Gracie [Gold], then me and then the pairs," he said after his afternoon practice Wednesday. "I did request to do the short. I may have to still do the long, depending on what happens with the dance and ladies.

"Either way, I'm prepared to do a free skate on Sunday, or have it as a day of rest."

The general consensus is Davis and White will choose to perform both their short dance and free dance, granting Abbott his wish to skate just the short program.

"This set-up gave me the most amount of time [practicing] in the main arena," he said. "That's really what I was looking at: how much time I could get in the competitive venue, so that I was comfortable and confident and it felt like home ice, instead of stepping out at the Olympics the first time."

Jason Dungjen, who, with Yuka Sato, coaches Abbott at the Detroit Skating Club, thinks the skater is right on track.

"He's been practicing just like [he does] at home," Dungjen said. "We have a set plan, and we're just sticking with it. He seems to be in a very good spot at this time."

Abbott showed off some spiffy quad toes in practice Wednesday afternoon. Dungjen thinks that's par for the course.

"He's been hitting the quad pretty much at will; it looks like he is very comfortable with it again," the coach said.

Whatever happens, Abbott plans to march in the Opening Ceremony on Friday.

"It was my favorite part of Vancouver (the 2010 Olympics), and I did not want to miss it," he said. "The way this is all set up, I've been given a great opportunity to [compete my short], march and still rest and recover afterwards.

"Of course, I may find out while I'm marching, 'Oh, surprise -- the dancers aren't going [to do two programs],'" he continued. "Either way, I'm prepared."

Four Olympic programs, one week, no problem

Like Abbott, Castelli and Shnapir are genuinely excited to compete in the team event. With the U.S. among the favorites to land on the podium, the reigning two-time U.S. pairs champions could be in line for an Olympic medal.

"We've wanted to do the team event since we heard about it," Castelli said. "It's just more times to skate at the Olympics. We couldn't ask for anything more."

It hasn't yet been announced if the duo will compete their free skate for the U.S., but if they do, they will have just three days between that and the short program in the pairs competition.

Shnapir is unfazed.

"We know there's added pressure and stress, but we're used to training two programs a day, five days a week back home," he said. "We've done quick turnarounds at competitions, being in Europe one week and Japan the next week. I think it's great to have another opportunity to compete, especially at the Olympics."

There's also the matter of taking part in the Opening Ceremony on Friday, smack dab between the team short and free.

"We're still on the fence if we want to do opening ceremonies," Castelli said. "We've heard mixed stories: 'It's the most spectacular thing in my life; it's awesome, but it's so tiring.'

"Right now, if we have the opportunity to skate a long program as well, we want to be in the best condition to help the U.S. team win a medal."

There is no "I" in team

Prevailing wisdom held that Canada would split the pairs short program and the free skate between its two elite duos, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, who last season placed third and fourth in the world, respectively.

The announcement that Duhamel and Radford would skate the short was a surprise in some circles, as Moore-Towers and Moscovitch have a high comfort level with their Micmacs short, which they've had for two seasons.

Moore-Towers brushed off suggestions the team is disappointed.

"We are not educated in making these kinds of decisions," the perky blonde skater said. "In a way, no one really is, because we're the guinea pigs for the team event. The people who decide, our federation, they have a strategy. We may not necessarily know what it is, but we're ready for anything."

Both she and Moscovitch acknowledge that Duhamel and Radford had publicly expressed a preference to compete the short, set to music Radford composed as a tribute to his late coach, Paul Wirtz.

The decision likely came down to one element: the side-by-side triple Lutzes Duhamel and Radford perform in their short, which have a higher base value than the triple toes Moore-Towers and Moscovitch do in theirs (6.0 points versus 4.1).

Another factor may have been a minor injury Moore-Towers suffered at practice Tuesday. While doing swing rolls, she felt a tweak in her back and immediately stopped and left the ice. Moscovitch referred to it as a "pinched nerve" and said his partner just needs a little time to rest.

The skaters were back in full force Wednesday, holding little back as they ran through their program.

Moscovitch isn't concerned about his partner's health.

"What athlete doesn't train every day with pain?" he said.

Moore-Towers said she isn't going to let a "silly, little thing" -- as she called it -- prevent them from potentially contributing to a gold-medal run in the team event for Canada.

"We don't usually get to be a team with the other [Canadian] skaters," she said. "If we were given that opportunity, it would be something very special."

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