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New Team Figure Skating Already Has Its Share Of Controversy

Controversy is nothing new to figure skating, so perhaps it's not surprising that team figure skating, new to this Olympics, has already come in for some unwanted attention. The Russian and U.S. figure skating teams are strongly denying reports that they are in collusion.

L'Equipe, the French sports website, is quoting an unnamed Russian coach as claiming that the American and Russian teams will help each win gold medals. The allegation goes like this: the Russian judges will help U.S. team captain Charlie White and his partner, Meryl Davis, win ice dance in exchange for the U.S. clearing the way for the Russians to win pairs and team dance.

At a news conference, U.S. pairs skater Simon Shnapir defended the team: "We're not aware of this. And our focus is just on our skating and our work and our performance and that's it," he said.

U.S. figure skating spokesperson Barbara Reichert also denied the allegations. "I'll use the word laughable," she said.

"You saw them last night and they were excellent," Reichert said, "They're always excellent."

Interestingly, team figure skating is so far the best chance for Russia to win gold after Julia Lipnitskaya blew away the competition in her short program.

The allegations come at a time when figure skating, an already popular sport, is getting even more time during this Olympic Games.

Team figure skating allows for more televised ice time, with some skaters doing double duty for both the team competition and the individual competition.

Even so, the U.S. is not as strong this year after a marquee name has been kept on the sidelines: 2010 gold medalist Evan Lysacek has been forced to sit out this Olympics due to a hip injury. That leaves the figure skating field open. The favorite is Canadian Patrick Chan.

"I always think that a scary competitor is a consistent competitor," says Lysacek, who believes Chan, 23, is just that. Lysacek, who's 28, points to Chan's experience with injuries, coaching changes, and in a previous Olympics. "The most consistent ones are the ones who made me not sleep at night," Lysacek says.

On the women's side, there's controversy, as Ashley Wagner prepares to skate in the individual. Her ascendancy to the Olympics was controversial after she faltered in the U.S. Nationals.

But criticism of Wagner may have subsided a bit after her strong showing in the team short program on the first day at Sochi. And about the stress and the criticism, the 22-year-old says with a laugh, "You just try not to think about it."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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