Many skaters depart Olympics between team, individual events

Alina Zagitova, of the Olympic Athletes of Russia, performs in the ladies single skating free skating in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) If you’re leaving Pyeongchang on Tuesday morning, check out the folks sitting next to you.

They might be wearing Olympic medals.

The way the figure skating program is set up, there is a long break between the team competition and the ice dance and women’s competitions. The pairs program begins Wednesday and the men take the ice for their individual event Friday, but the rest are off until next week.

So, most of the ice dancers and women from powerhouse countries such as Canada were leaving the craziness of the Olympic sphere Tuesday for calmer surroundings. In their case, dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and the women’s contingent of Kaetlyn Osmond, Gabrielle Daleman and Larkyn Austman were on their way back to Seoul for a few days of work in an out-of-the-way rink.

Virtue and Moir, along with Osmond and Daleman, were instrumental in the Canadians winning gold in the team event. The Olympic Athletes from Russia took silver and the U.S. won bronze.

”We’ll be going to our training site outside of the Olympic structure, so to speak, and we’ll be able to take our experience of competing in this team event to our advantage,” said Moir, who along with Virtue are aiming for a fifth Olympic medal. ”It’s a huge advantage that we’ve been out there.”

Mirai Nagasu became only the third woman and first American to land a triple axel in Olympic competition , helping the U.S. secure its bronze. Now, she’s headed to a secret location outside the host city of Gangneung with teammates Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell to keep the jump sharp.

They’ll be joined there by three ice dance teams that are podium contenders: siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, who also skated in the team event; Madison Chock and Evan Bates; and national champs Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, who have been skating the best of their careers.

On the flip side, some of the men competing this week have just arrived.

Japanese sensation Yuzuru Hanyu, who is bidding to become the first back-to-back gold medalist since Dick Button in 1952, was greeted by a mob at Incheon International Airport on Monday night. One of his biggest rivals, Javier Fernandez of Spain, took the ice for the first time Tuesday morning.

Why not spend the entire time soaking up the Olympic experience? Besides the pressure, there is a more practical consideration: ice time. The venue for figure skating doubles as the facility for short-track speedskating, so there are limited opportunities for teams to practice.

Sometimes, that entails waking up at 5 a.m. to be ready for 6:30 a.m. practices. Or heading back to the rink after dinner for a late-night session at odds with the morning competitions.

”We’ll be able to get a lot more practice time,” Alex Shibutani explained of the Americans’ choice to train elsewhere over the next few days. ”We’ll be able to relax a little bit before coming back here next week and getting ready for our individual event.”

The Russian athletes, including medal favorites Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova, are flying to the coastal Japanese city of Niigata to fine-tune their programs. Likewise, the Japanese women and ice dancers are heading home for a few days before returning to the Korean peninsula to compete.

”Nothing is proven yet,” Zagitova said. ”I still need to skate well in the individual event. I need to psychologically stay calm so that I can go out like any other competition.”

Turns out leaving the Olympic atmosphere is a popular way to do it.

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