GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — To team or not to team?
That was the question posed to the top three pairs after Wednesday's short program at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Each defended their strategy, saying their performances — and all of them were outstanding — emanated from participating or skipping the team event that concluded Monday.
China's world champions, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, missed the team competition, and they won the short. Russian skaters Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were a close second to the Chinese, closer than some expected, in fact. Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford were third. Those two couples were key members of medal-winning nations in the team event.
Sui and Han had no plans to skate before Wednesday because she was recovering from a left leg injury sustained in a training accident that required five stitches and kept them off the ice for a while. Han blamed himself for that.
"I was not careful enough," he said. "But luckily it was not a very big cut, five stitches, and after that ... we had to wait to participate."
Added Sui, who laughed when Han took the blame: "Our coach decided one month ago when I hurt myself that we needed more practice, so we could come here later."
They certainly weren't rusty, putting together an almost hypnotic short program to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" that earned them a career-best 82.39 points, beating their score in last year's worlds.
"I think today we did quite well and enjoyed ourselves," she said. "Hope tomorrow we can cash our bet."
The Russians trailed by .71, a margin as slim as the blades they skate on. They were convinced doing the team in which they took silver was a benefit. And a duty, even if they are skating as Olympic Athletes from Russia because of the IOC's decision in a Russian doping scandal.
"The team competition I think was a chance for us to skate in the main arena," Morozov said through a translator. "It was a training bout for us and carried a very high responsibility for our team. And the fact that we could win medals for our team was even better. I think it was a big help for us."
No one got more benefit out of the team event than the Canadians, who won gold. Four years ago at the Sochi Games, the first time there was a team competition, Canada finished second to Russia. Almost as soon as those games concluded, the Canadians set forth a plan to win the gold in 2018.
That achievement provided much more than satisfaction, both Radford and Duhamel said.
"The team event was energizing so much that we had a good practice, better than maybe you would think. We have a calm energy that we are using," Radford said.
"In the team event, being on that podium and getting the gold made us want to be right back up there so badly to get a medal of any color," Duhamel added.
There have been suggestions to move the team discipline to the end of the Olympics, but Radford emphatically disagreed. He found it a "perfect way" to begin the games.
"There was never any thought to not skating it," he said. "We are at the Olympics, and any time we can be on the ice and help ourselves and our country, we're going to do it."
Several other pairs benefited from the double duty, though American champs Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim struggled Wednesday. They had helped the United States take team bronze, but were 14th in the short program.
German, French, Chinese and Italian duos who performed in the team competition finished in the top 10 Wednesday in one of the cleanest and innovative short programs the Olympics have seen.
So, to team or not to team?