Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Mandi Bierly
February 05, 2014 AT 12:00 PM EST

For longtime figure skating fans, the team figure skating event debuting at the Sochi Olympics on Feb. 6, 8, and 9 is the best thing to happen since Ice Wars. Here’s how it works:

The competition begins Thursday with 10 countries. Each nation picks one man, woman, pairs team, and ice dancing couple to represent them in the short program/dance. To keep it interesting, points aren’t determined by adding their combined scores. There’s a ranking system: The top-scoring man earns 10 points for his country, the next highest man nine, and so on down the line. The top-scoring pairs team earns 10 points for their country, the next highest pair nine, and you get the picture. Then those points are combined from each of the four disciplines. The Top 5 countries move on to the free skate/dance, and each nation can make up to two substitutions in their lineup.

NBC commentator Scott Hamilton, who’s celebrating the 30th anniversary of winning his own gold in Sarajevo, says it seems like a three-country race between the United States, Canada, and Russia. For him, the fun will be watching the strategies unfold as the desire to win the first medals in the new sport possibly butts heads with the need to make sure the athletes — particularly the pairs and men, who compete for individual medals the following week — retain fuel in the tank as well as their confidence. “I’m really excited about it because it’s the game within the game,” Hamilton says. “I used to joke around that if a figure skater wanted to catch Michael Phelps’ gold medal total, it would take them 88 years. And now with the team event, it will only take them 44 years. So that’s a big development.”

The men are the first to take the ice in the team event on Thursday at 10:30 a.m. ET, followed by the pairs at 12:10 p.m. ET. As with all Olympic events, these will be live-streamed on The men and pairs will also make NBC’s prime-time coverage, which begins Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET. After Friday’s opening ceremony, all figure skating events will be aired live on NBCSN before appearing on NBC.

The team competition resumes Saturday with the ice dancing short program at 9:30 a.m. ET and the ladies at 11:10 a.m. ET. The pairs free skate also happens Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Then Sunday decides the team medals with the men at 10 a.m. ET, the ladies at 11:05 a.m. ET, and the ice dancing at 12:10 p.m. ET.

So far, the U.S. has only officially confirmed its short program roster for the men and pairs: reigning national champions Jeremy Abbott, pictured, and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir. Watch their short programs at Nationals below. (And another reason for longtime fans to celebrate: The always-eventful Yevgeny Plushenko will skate the short program for Russia.)

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