American ice dancers battle for podium at Beijing Olympics

As Chock explained to her an obvious mistake in the rhythm dance portion of the competition – and after Bates assured her that their skating wasn’t “that bad, obviously” – a TV screen behind her showed fellow Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue waiting to hear their rating. Chock glanced back as the new leaderboard appeared on the screen. Hubbell and Donohue mark of 87.13 passed Chock and Bates for third place before Monday’s free dance.

These duos, who have battled for years of ice dancing supremacy in the United States, each have medal potential in Beijing. But there may not be a place on the podium for both.

“It’s certainly familiar territory for us,” Chock said. “It’s a rivalry we’ve had for 11 years, so I feel like it still feels. They’re strong competitors, just like us. It’s just whoever does the best that day.

On Friday it was Hubbell and Donohue, who won silver at the last world championships but never won an individual medal at the Olympics. They have a three-point cushion over Chock and Bates (84.14) with one day of competition remaining.

The French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, quadruple world champions, obtained the best mark of the evening with a 90.83. The 2018 Olympic silver medalists delivered a mesmerizing performance, combining fluidity with the occasional sharpness as they skated perfectly in sync wearing the matching burgundy.

Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of the Russian Olympic Committee, the defending world champions, also shone with an 88.85. These strong performances left the top Americans fighting for third place. Unless the French and Russian duos are mistaken, this battle for third place could be repeated in free dance but with other pairs in the mix too. Chock and Bates have only a slim advantage over pairs from the ROC (Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin with an 84.09), Canada (Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier with an 83.52) and Italy (Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri with an 82.68).

The United States has won ice dance medals at each of the past four Olympics and will rely on these two strong pairs to maintain that streak. Since the 2018 PyeongChang Games, these tandems have bounced the US national title back and forth. (Chock and Bates won this year and in 2020, while Hubbell and Donohue won in 2019 and 2021. The duo that didn’t win placed second each time.)

America’s Olympic medal streak began in 2006 with silver from Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto. This duo “started to open a door to put American ice dancing on the map,” said Jean-Luc Baker, who along with partner Kaitlin Hawayek sits in 11th place after rhythm dancing. Meryl Davis and Charlie White won medals at the next two Games, including gold in 2014, and Maia and Alex Shibutani won bronze in 2018 ahead of Hubbell and Donohue.

“American ice dancers were the first to really push this – the extreme athleticism and acrobatics of the sport, but also the artistry and beauty of the sport,” Hawayek said.

Hawayek and Baker have won bronze at the US Nationals for the past four years, securing a place in the pecking order behind the two dominant US tandems who arrived here in Beijing to chase a medal in this event.

America’s top two pairs entered these Games four years after Olympic disappointments: Hubbell and Donohue slipped to fourth after mistakes in their free dance in 2018. Chock and Bates collapsed on the ice and finished ninth. They were both part of the silver-medal winning team in Beijing, but are still chasing their first individual Olympic medals, with Saturday’s competition serving as the first stop.

Hubbell said she entered the PyeongChang Games believing what she described as Olympic clichés – that medals are “life changing” and fourth place is “the worst”. When she tells others about her result that just missed out on the podium, they also seem to believe in the agony of fourth place. She cried about it for two days but then made sure that fourth was better than fifth, sixth and all the other places. Now she feels proud of the result and of everything she and Donohue have achieved since.

Olympian figure skaters Madison Chock and Evan Bates aren’t the only couple to have found love on the ice. (Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Hubbell and Donohue declared that this would be their last competitive season, and when they finished their rhythm dance, Donohue let out a cry of excitement. They try to downplay the moment, but “there’s a certain hype that comes with being on an Olympic stage,” he said after the performance which went as well as they did. had hoped.

They talk about their relationship with each other more than medals – although the possibility of winning one looms in the coming days. But as a third-place team heading into the free dance at the Olympics four years ago, they also know how messy the standings can get with one mistake.

Since then, “we have continued to push our limits and here we are – and hopefully come away with a medal this time around,” Hubbell said, “but no matter what, already with a completely different and more beautiful Olympic experience. “

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