SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Ashley Wagner, a self-described vicious competitor, concedes it will be a little strange to cheer on fellow American Gracie Gold.
Team figure skating makes its debut at the Olympics on Thursday, one of the TV-friendly events held a day before the opening ceremony. Ten countries will send out one entry in each of the four disciplines: men, women, pairs and ice dance.
The nation with the highest total score after the short and long programs wins — suddenly giving figure skaters the chance at two medals at one Winter Games.
Canada is the favorite with three-time world champion Patrick Chan and reigning ice dance Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Host Russia — with medal contenders in the women's, pairs and ice dance events — could challenge if Evgeni Plushenko looks more like the skater who won silver at the 2010 Games than the one who finished second at his own national championships this year.
Plushenko, coming off back surgery, earned Russia's only men's spot despite finishing behind Maxim Kovtun at nationals. The 2006 Olympic champion was selected after impressing Russian officials at a closed-door performance. He already owns three medals, also winning silver in 2002.
American ice dancer Charlie White, who could leave Sochi with two more medals to go with the silver he won in Vancouver, said skaters used to joke about how athletes in other sports could win so many medals.
"Obviously that was something we grew up with and part of what made figure skating so special," he said. "But having only had one opportunity to win a medal at the last Olympics, we certainly cherish the opportunity to walk away with more than one."
The U.S. can likely count on a big score from White and partner Meryl Davis, the reigning world champs, with good balance in the other disciplines.
That will prove key because of a twist in the rules: Each country can use a different entry for the short and long program in two of the disciplines. So strategy comes into play, as national federations weigh the potential for high marks against the risk of wearing out top skaters before their individual events.
That's a particularly vexing problem for the men, whose short program in singles is four days after their team free skate. U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott will represent the Americans in the team short program Thursday, but runner-up Jason Brown can replace him in the free skate.