U.S. figure skaters are off to a blazing start nearly halfway through the Olympic team event.
After taking bronze at the past two Olympics, the U.S. is sitting in first through the first three of eight total segments in the competition.
All three U.S. entries who took the ice on Friday set personal best scores with Nathan Chen winning the men’s short program, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue topping the ice dance field (which included the reigning world champion team) and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier placing third in the pairs short program behind two world champion teams.
The U.S. will carry a two-point lead over the Russian Olympic Committee team (28 points to 26) when the team event resumes Sunday in Beijing (Saturday night U.S. time) with the women’s short program and men’s free skate. China currently sits five points back (21) as it battles Japan (20) for the third-place spot.
After the women’s short program, half the 10-nation field will be eliminated before the free skate/dances commence. Italy sits in fifth with 18 points, followed by Canada (16), Georgia (15), Czech Republic (12), Ukraine (4) and Germany (3).
Editor's note: Re-live the event as it unfolded in real time with our live blog updates below.
Men's Short Program
Group 1 feat. Michal Brezina and Jin Boyang
With the start order for each discipline in the team event based on world standings, Germany's Paul Fentz started the competition. The German team is competing without its pairs entry of Minerva Hase and Nolan Seegert after Seegert tested positive for COVID-19 once in Beijing. Their teammates are holding a sign that says, "We Miss You," in the team box.
Fentz earned 68.84 points in what will be his only Olympic performance here. Germany did not qualify a men's skater, but was granted a men's spot for just the team event based on the country's overall ranking and it having an entry for the remaining three disciplines.
Canadian Roman Sadovsky topped Fentz with 71.06 points. Canada won the 2018 Olympic team event gold medal, but has not factored into medal conversations for these Games due to the retirement of two-time Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, 2014 Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan and 2018 Olympic pairs bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.
At his fourth Olympics, 31-year-old Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic moved into first with a score of 76.77 points. Brezina trains at Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena in Irvine, California, with Chen and their coach Rafael Arutyunyan.
China's Jin Boyang, who was fourth in men's singles in PyeongChang, fell on his quad toe but still earned the highest score so far with 82.87 points.
Group 2 feat. Uno and Chen
ROC'S Kondratyuk was easily into first with a short program that started with a quad toe and ended with a quad salchow for 95.81 points.
Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist, starts the Japanese team's quest for its first medal in this event with a personal best score of 105.46 points. His clean short program featured an opening quad flip, quad toe-triple toe combo and a triple axel.
The Georgian team is off to a strong start in its first Olympic team event appearance thanks to Kvitelashvili who lands third with 92.37 points, behind Uno and Kondratyuk, in the country's quest to advance to the free skate/dance portion.
With U.S. teammates Mariah Bell, Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, Karen Chen, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker cheering him on in the team box, Chen avenges his 2018 team event performance with a virtually flawless performance to Charles Aznavour's version of "La Boheme." The 22-year-old earned an international personal best score of 111.71 points.
"Honestly I'm just here to have fun, so I'm really happy," Chen told NBC reporter Andrea Joyce.
Grassl then put Italy into fifth with 88.10 points.
Heading into the rhythm dance, the U.S. is ranked first (earning 10 points for the team event), followed by Japan (9), ROC (8), Georgia (7) and Italy (6) rounding out the top five. In jeopardy of being eliminated following the short/rhythm programs is China (5), Czech Republic (4), Canada (3) and Germany (2).
Ukraine is the 10 team in the event but has yet to start as its men's entry, Ivan Shmuratko, tested positive for COVID-19.
Ice Dance - Rhythm Dance
10:48 p.m. ET: Japan is first to go in its weakest discipline, making Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto's placement all the more important to its country's hunt for an Olympic medal. In their Olympic debut, they get the rhythm dance off to a solid start, earning 66.54 points.
10:55 p.m. ET: Performing to a medley of five Madonna songs, Czech Republic's brother-sister duo of Natalie Taschlerova and Filip Taschler quickly steal the Japanese team's lead with a score of 68.99 points.
11:03 p.m. ET: With a fan-favorite program in which Germans Katharina Mueller and Tim Dieck portray Harley Quinn and Joker, Mueller lost her balance during a twizzle sequence and they sit in third of the three teams with 63.21 points.
11:09 p.m. ET: Georgia's Maria Kazakova and Georgy Reviya are up next with hopes of maintaining Georgia's top-five placement that would move them into the free portion of the team event. Skating to the absolute jam that is Usher's "Yeah!" for the hip-hop part of their program, Kazakova and Reviya score a 64.60 and are into third.
"They're incredible innovators, but in reality we're going to see that much more in the free dance portion," 2006 U.S. Olympic silver medalist and NBC commentator Tanith White said.
Group 2 feat. Hubbell/Donohue, Sinitsina/Katsalapov
11:36 p.m. ET: After making their Olympic debut in 2018, Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue now make their Olympic team event debut to a Janet Jackson medley. With their best and most authentic performance of this program to date, Hubbell and Donohue score an international personal best 86.56 points. Of note, their fellow U.S. ice dance teams - who are also their friends, training mates and competitors - of Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker were cheering them on in the team box.
11:43 p.m. ET: Just like Hubbell and Donohue, Canadians Piper Gilles (who, way back when, competed with Donohue for two seasons) and Paul Poirier are at their second Games but first team event. They earned 82.72 points for a program set to Elton John's "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" and "I'm Still Standing," and are into second.
11:50 p.m. ET: In an important performance for Italy's team event standings, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri top Gilles and Poirier with 83.83 points to ensure Italy will remain in the top half of the standings.
11:56 p.m. ET: Last to go, 2021 world champions and 2019 world silver medalists Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of ROC finish second to Hubbell and Donohue in the rhythm dance with 85.05 points.
The U.S. remains in first overall with a perfect 20 points, followed by ROC (17), Italy (14), Japan (13) and China (11), with Georgia and Canada (10 each), Czech Republic (9), Germany (3) and Ukraine (2) in jeopardy of elimination depending on the pairs and women's short program results.
Pairs Short Program
Group 1 of 3
12:30 a.m. ET: Now it's Ukraine's turn to start off a segment, with Sofiia Holichenko and Artem Darenskyi skating in just their second season together and first on the international stage. They put up a respectable 53.65 points in what will be their only Olympic performance. Like Germany's Paul Fentz earlier, Ukraine was granted a pairs entry into the team event (only) after it qualified but had not earned a quota in that discipline.
12:36 a.m. ET: Two-time Czech Republic national champions Yelizaveta Zukova and Martin Bidar top the Ukrainians with 56.70 points.
Group 2 of 3 (feat. Knierim/Frazier)
1:10 a.m. ET: In their first competition in 2 1/2 months, Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier nailed their short program set to "The House of the Rising Sun" with -- yes, you guessed it -- an international personal best of 75.00 points to take the lead with five pairs left to go. The 2021 U.S. champions, who had just become partners that season, missed the opportunity to defend their title last month when Frazier tested positive for COVID-19 in Nashville, Tennessee, and came back with the best short program performance of their career.
"I am just in awe," Knierim told NBC's Joyce after their performance. "I am so proud of us. There was a lot of pressure we had within us. We were just trying to ignore it."
1:16 a.m. ET: Skating to k.d. lang's version of "Hallelujah," Japan's Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara settle into second with an impressive performance that earned 74.45 points and continued their international rise.
1:20 a.m. ET: Continuing a string of epic music, three-time Olympians Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise of Italy skated to The Beatles' "Let It Be" (version from "Across the Universe") and slid into fourth between Georgia and Czech Republic with 60.30 points.
Group 3 of 3
The final group features two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China, Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro and 2021 Russian world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov.
1:36 a.m. ET: Three-time Canadian national champions Moore-Towers and Marinaro earned 67.34 points with a shaky performance at their second Olympics together (her third total). They're third with the world's top two teams to go.
1:42 a.m. ET: Fierce as ever, Sui and Han set themselves apart from the rest of the field as they opened their home Games. In their 14th season together, the 2018 Olympic pairs silver medalists earned a world record score of 82.83 points to raucous applause from the very limited crowd.
1:49 a.m. ET: Mishina and Galliamov, who held the world's highest pairs short program score until minutes earlier, had a higher technical score than Sui and Han but their "La Esmeralda" was unable to re-claim the record. They narrowly fell into second with 82.64 points, a personal best.
Three segments through, the U.S. remains in first with 28 team points, followed by ROC (26), China (21), Japan (20) and Italy (18). The following teams are on the brink of seeing their team event journeys come to an end: Canada (16), Georgia (15), Czech Republic (12), Ukraine (4), Germany (3).