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U.S. ice dance teams all focused on Olympic podium

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The United States has three of the top five best dance teams in the world. It’s possible – likely, even – that at least one of them will end up on the PyeongChang podium. The same three U.S. teams have qualified for the prestigious Grand Prix Final for three consecutive years and taken home medals from the event.

Brother-sister duo Maia and Alex Shibutani have already won a bronze medal in the team event earlier in PyeongChang; they also have two U.S. titles and three Worlds medals. They finished ninth at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished eighth in Sochi, then won their first national title together in 2015. They have two Worlds medals on their resume.

The third U.S. team, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, are making their Olympic debut as newly-crowned national champions. They train with the two other top teams competing in PyeongChang: Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

The short dance is Sunday, February 18 in Primetime on NBC and NBCOlympics.com and the free dance is Monday, February 19 in Primetime on NBC and NBCOlympics.com.

Team USA picks Tennell, Shibutanis for 2nd night of team event

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Team USA’s Bradie Tennell and ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani will compete in the figure skating team event, according the entry lists released on Friday evening.

Figure skating’s team event continues Saturday in Primetime on NBC and NBCOlympics.com.

Tennell is making her Olympic debut. The “Shib Sibs” competed at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but did not partake in the team event.

Read more and watch highlights from Wednesday’s team event

How U.S. chooses figure skating roster for Olympic team event

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U.S. Figure Skating said its roster for the Olympic team event will be chosen in the same process as in 2014, which is a little complicated.

Basically, U.S. Figure Skating creates four sets of rankings.

First, a ranking of the four disciplines based on overall strength. That would likely be ice dance, then men, then women and finally pairs.

Then, a ranking is created within each discipline of each of the three individual skaters and dance couples, using the criteria for Olympic team selection earlier this month. (There is no ranking for pairs, because the U.S. only has one pair in PyeongChang.)

This means that the U.S. champions in each discipline won’t necessarily get first choice on which team event program(s) they would like to skate.

NBCOlympics.com: What is the figure skating team event?

U.S. Figure Skating could, for example, determine that national ice dance silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani have a better overall resumé than gold medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

Using those rankings, which U.S. Figure Skating does not make public, skaters pick the team event short and long programs, with input from team officials.

Keep in mind that the U.S. can sub out skaters between the short and long programs in two of the three disciplines other than pairs (U.S. pairs champs Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim must skate both programs).

Use 2014 as an example. Skaters from that team detailed the selection process in interviews last spring.

Ice dance was the highest-ranked of the disciplines. The top ice dance couple was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the world champions who chose to skate both programs.

“We had our best chance if we did not swap out our dance teams,” Gracie Gold said last spring. “We needed Meryl and Charlie [for medal hopes].”

The next highest-ranked discipline was the women, led by the U.S. champion Gold.

“They were like, we would have you do both [team event programs, but] we think that’s a lot for you to do, Opening Ceremonies, then both [team event programs] and have a week and a half and do both again [in the individual event],” Gold said. “They said, we want you to do the long program. So I said yes. That made sense for me.”

NBCOlympics.com: More on figure skating

Who would skate the women’s short program in the team event? Surprise U.S. silver medalist Polina Edmunds or Ashley Wagner, who finished fourth at nationals but was the top American internationally that season?

Wagner. She skated the short program.

Then came the men. U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott chose the short program but left the free skate open.

“So then they asked me, Jeremy wants to do the short, will you do long?” U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown said. “Obviously, I wasn’t going to say no.”

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir skated both pairs programs.

The U.S. earned bronze behind Russia and Canada. The U.S. is expected to take bronze again next week, with Russia and Canada battling for gold.

Some obvious questions:

  • If ice dance is again the top-ranked discipline, which couple gets first choice? Hubbell and Donohue after their first national title, or the three-time world medalists Shibutani siblings?
  • Will Nathan Chen choose to skate both programs or to rest up for the men’s competition the following week? If Chen doesn’t skate both, who is the second-ranked man – U.S. silver medalist Vincent Zhou in his first senior international season or fourth-place Adam Rippon, a veteran?
  • The U.S. women’s rankings might also differ from nationals results since gold medalist Bradie Tennell has little senior international experience, while teammates Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen finished fourth at previous Olympics and world championships, respectively.

Answers come next week.

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