French repeat as World ice dance champions; U.S. gets two medals

Leave a comment

France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron became the first ice dance couple to repeat as World champions since 2007, while Americans earned silver and bronze in Boston on Thursday night.

Papadakis and Cizeron, who last year became the youngest World ice dance champions in 40 years, posted the highest-scoring free dance in international competition under a scoring system implemented in 2005.

They easily distanced U.S. siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani by 6.03 points and Madison Chock and Evan Bates by 8.69.

“We didn’t expect these high marks at all,” Papadakis said. “It took us a moment at the end of our program to realize what we have achieved, and I still can’t believe it.”

The French also topped the short dance at TD Garden on Wednesday, capping a comeback from Papadakis’ August practice fall and concussion. She still experiences headaches.

Their total score, 194.46, marked the second-best under the current system. Only Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White‘s 195.52 from the Sochi Olympics was better, but Davis and White did cede their free-dance world record.

“I could not be happier to pass that along to them,” White said on Icenetwork.com. “I was just in awe the entire program. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The top three went unchanged from the short dance.

The U.S. earned multiple medals in a single event at Worlds for the first time since 2011, when Davis and White took gold and the Shibutanis bronze in the siblings’ first season as senior skaters.

The Shibutanis had not earned an Olympic or Worlds medal since, bottoming out with a ninth-place finish in Sochi but re-emerging with their best performances this season. They won their first U.S. title in January and the Four Continents Championship in February.

“We’ve been able to really weather out this journey,” Maia said.

Chock and Bates earned their second straight Worlds medal after silver in 2015, when Papadakis and Cizeron overtook them in the free dance.

“Last year was the first time that we had ever been in medal contention at a World Championships, and I don’t think we really knew how to handle it very well,” Bates said. “Looking back, I don’t think we skated our best free dance. With that said, I think today we did skate our best free dance.”

The Shibutanis and Chock and Bates had scores in Boston that would have won the 2014 and 2015 World titles.

The U.S.’ third couple, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, placed sixth. It’s the first time the U.S. put three couples that high at a Worlds since 1955.

It continued a U.S. ice dance renaissance. In 2005, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won the nation’s first World ice dance medal in 20 years.

Four different U.S. couples have combined to win 12 medals at the last 12 World Championships, while the U.S. has totaled seven medals overall across men’s, women’s and pairs in the same stretch.

The ice dance field is about to get stronger with the return of 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir next season. The Canadians haven’t competed since taking Sochi silver behind Davis and White, who also have been out since the Olympics but haven’t announced whether they will return.

Virtue and Moir used to train with Davis and White in Michigan but will be taught by new coaches in their comeback — Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal.

Dubreuil and Lauzon’s star pupils? Papadakis and Cizeron. They’ll have to share.

“It’s going to be another challenge for us,” Papadakis said.

The World Championships continue Friday with the pairs short program and men’s free skate with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

MORE: Meryl Davis, Charlie White wait for right feeling for possible return

World Championships Ice Dance
GOLD: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 194.46
SILVER: Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 188.43
BRONZE: Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 185.77
6. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 176.81

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

Getty Images
Leave a comment

For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!