It was a historic night at the Iceberg Palace in Sochi, Russia today, as the first ever Team Event in figure skating took place, with the men and the pairs taking the ice for their short programs. And it was an eventful start to the Team Event, as there were some great surprises and some not-so-great surprises.
Plushenko rocks the house
It was only his first of potentially four performances in Sochi, but it was one heck of a short program that Evgeni Plushenko delivered in front of the home crowd. No, it's not the most intricate program ever, but it was packed with a quad toe-triple toe and a triple axel. That short program was a strong statement from the now-four-time Olympian with a bad knee and a bad back.
Play-by-play/videos: Team men's short
With that effort, Plushenko was ahead of three-time World champ Patrick Chan, who made a few mistakes but did nothing disastrous. And Plushenko finished second only behind a pretty flawless Yuzuru Hanyu, who was most definitely the class of the field in the team men's short.
U.S. starts off poorly with Abbott
Looking great in practices all week, U.S. champ Jeremy Abbott unfortunately left it all there. For the U.S. to challenge for gold, it would have been pretty crucial for Abbott to be fighting for a top three spot. Instead, he fell apart - down on an underrotated quad toe, doubled a triple toe, and singled his axel - and no one else at the top did, and the Americans had to settle for a seventh place.
Play-by-play/videos: Team pairs' short
And though there are plenty of people out there thinking that Abbott's short program sounded the death knell for U.S. chances at a team medal, that's far from the case. Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir placed where they were expected to place, which helped matters. What it doesn't do is take the Americans out of medal contention (as much as "seventh place after two events" might seem a bit dire). What it does do is take the U.S. out of contention for gold, more or less, and make it a fight with Japan, potentially, for the bronze.
Team Russia was really on a roll today, and it was the favorites for pairs gold who looked absolutely regal. Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov made it look so easy, putting down one of the best short programs ever seen in Olympic history. How do you top that? You don't.
The fight for fifth
Common consensus, even after Abbott's poor short program, is still that the top four will be locked by some combination of Canada, Japan, Russia, and the U.S. The question is who takes the final spot in the free skate portion of the Team Event.
Team Italy was first to gift, when Paul Bonifacio Parkinson finished lower than he had hoped after he fell twice and his two main competitors skated well. But then it was Team France who did some gifting after Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres made two big mistakes in their short program. What it meant was that they let Team China in the game, especially after both Han Yan and Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang skated superbly today.
Still, even after all of that, it is looking like the fight will be between France and Italy (France has a lead of two points right now), with Italy still having the edge in the ladies and the dance portions of the competition.