Reigning champions Papadakis, Cizeron in comfortable lead after rhythm dance at Europeans

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The Tango Romantica of the 2019 Rhythm Dance was danced in front of its creator, legendary coach Elena Chaykovskaya, who was in the stands.

Chaykovskaya witnessed the clear-cut victory of the four-time European champions, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who elevated the record score they had set at the Grand Prix de France earlier in the season. They earned 84.79 points, some 3.42 points ahead of Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, and 5.74 points ahead of third place skaters Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri from Italy.

Results: Rhythm dance

Papadakis and Cizeron had to wait before taking the ice, as they skated last. Their dance was smooth and fluid as usual, with the additional tonicity that Tango requires. Their step sequence and first Tango section received a level 2, their other elements a level 4. Still, the way they executed their elements (as reflected from the GOEs they received) was deemed the best of the evening – as were their components.

“As we were skating we could notice that our first Tango pattern was not completely clean,” Cizeron admitted afterwards. “It’s hard to skate full speed with passion and expression and do the key points at the same time. It’s something we’re better at when we practice than when we perform. But we’re working at it.”

“Tango is a dance we really like,” Papadakis added. “We haven’t had much experience with it, so we were really happy to learn it would be this year’s dance. It works well with the speed and glide, so it gives us another opportunity to express ourselves, as it combines both the strong character of the dance with glide.”

Stepanova and Bukin had their own personal approach to their dance. The audience cheered and applauded right from the start of their performance. Their Tango sections were rated level 2 and 4, their step sequence received a level 3. Their twizzles and lift were awarded a level 4.

“We have already won two bronze medals at previous Europeans, but this one will remain special,” Stepanova offered. “The assessment of our coaches was incredibly nice [after we skated], and it means a lot to us. Ice dance for us is when you show your emotions, your theatre, your show and the technical part at the same time. We are very happy to have surpassed the 80-point bar, especially at such a competition.”

“Everything comes with time,” Bukin added. “With experience you start to understand how and what to show and do it the best way.”

They totaled 81.37 points.

Guignard and Fabbri took the ice right after Stepanova and Bukin and the ovation they had received. The Italians delivered a lively rendering to their “Miedo a la Libertad” Tango (or “The fear of liberty” in Spanish), earning a level 3 for their step sequence and first Tango section, and a level 4 for all their other elements.

“It’s a very rewarding feeling for us, because we’ve worked a lot for this result,” Fabbri said afterwards. “This was the best rhythm dance of the season and the best score, so it’s great. This motivates us a lot for tomorrow’s free dance. We realize that we can compete with the best couples in the world. We can fight for the important medals.”

MORE: Behind the scenes at Europeans, day 3

As it has been the case since the season started, the key points of Tango Romantica were quite hard to get – and they remained so in Minsk. Only one team, Poland’s Natalia Kaliszek and Maksym Spodyriev, managed to receive a level 4 for both their Tango sections. They are currently standing in fourth place, with 72.87 points.

The last group of ice dancers opened with one of the main favorites, Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, and the audience soon rallied to the incredible energy they displayed right away. Too much energy maybe, as Katsalapov fell on his twizzles only half a minute after the start of their program. They will advance to Saturday’s free dance in fifth place, with 70.24 points under their belt, 14.55 points behind the French.

MORE: Papadakis, Cizeron look to new Olympic cycle

As a reminder, you can watch the European Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire

Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

MORE: How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

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