SOCHI, Russia — If adding a team figure skating event to the Olympics means we got an extra chance to see Russian sensation Julia Lipnitskaia soar skyward and land with the lightness of a breeze off the Black Sea, bring it on.
If creating this competition provided two opportunities to watch superb showman Evgeny Plushenko tie a record by winning his fourth Olympic figure skating medal, let's have more of it.
It seemed a questionable idea with a mercenary motive when the team competition was introduced to precede the pairs, ice dance, and men's and women's singles events.
With interest in figure skating generally on the decline, there was reason to wonder if the Olympics needed another figure skating competition — and if anyone would care as the sport got more exposure. What benefit would a new event have aside from generating three more days' ticket sales and programming for NBC?
The benefits were clear Sunday when U.S. women's champion Gracie Gold, who joked that she hated team sports as a kid because she didn't want others depending on her, felt accountable enough to her teammates to push herself and earn a career-best 129.38 points in her free skate as the U.S. won the bronze medal behind Russia and Canada.
Gold, who trains in El Segundo, will have ample time to recover before the women's singles competition Feb. 19-20 at the Iceberg Skating Palace. It can only help that she familiarized herself with the rink Sunday and was seen by the judges.
"She skated really, really well and that's sort of a preview before the actual competition starts, so they know she can skate like that," said her coach, Frank Carroll.
"All I can think of is this has got to give her confidence. She likes skating in this building, obviously. She likes the ice. She likes the surroundings. She wasn't intimidated by the crowd, she wasn't intimidated by anything. So I would think logically she would come back and feel that way about it for the individual event."
Gold said she initially wasn't sure what to make of the team event but realized that skating only the long program — Ashley Wagner was the U.S. entry in the short program Saturday — was easier than her usual workload in practice.
"I thought at first that maybe it would be a little bit tiring," she said. "But there are days where I do two — or if I don't skate very well — three long programs in a day, so if I can't handle two longs with a 10-day [break] in between, then I have more training to do."
The other reason to like the team event was that it launched Lipnitskaia toward certain stardom early in the Games and created a buzz of anticipation for the women's event. The team format created a comfortable environment for Lipnitskaia to bloom as she racked up a personal-best 141.51 points for her powerful but slightly flawed performance to "Schindler's List" in her long program.
"To be honest, it is much easier to skate as part of a team," she said through an interpreter. "My main motivation was not to let the team down."
Plushenko watered down his routine but was as entertaining as ever in helping host Russia win its first gold medal of the Games. If that was his Olympic finale — and his hints at a back problem suggested it might be — he left with a place in history because of this new event.
"There should be more medals in figure skating," said Alexei Mishin, Plushenko's longtime coach. "There were only four medals. Five medals is better. It's a good idea to bring to figure skating more medals and more participants."
Adding the team event could pose problems for the men, who have a short turnaround before they begin competing Thursday. Carroll theorized that's why gold-medal contender Patrick Chan of Canada skated only his short program in the team event.
As for the possibility fans might grow bored by seeing skaters repeat programs, that doesn't seem to be a problem in gymnastics, where athletes can perform the same routines in qualifying, team competitions, all-round competition and individual apparatus finals. Lipnitskaia's performance Sunday became a basis of comparison for the women's final. Can she possibly skate better? Can Gold close what was a 12-point gap Sunday?
The team event generated healthy drama for a sport that has become a dreary exercise in math and repetition of ugly, high-value moves demanded by an unfathomable scoring system. Teamwork is a familiar and welcome concept, even if it now has sequins glued to it.