Madison Chock, Evan Bates look to peak at Worlds and return to podium

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates won their first Four Continents Championships title in February after a silver medal finish at the U.S. Championships in January. They competed in three competitions over five weeks—after sitting out from competition for 10 months due to Chock’s ankle surgery.

The next stop for the 2015 U.S. Champions is the world championships in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24. They won Worlds silver and bronze in 2015 and 2016 and now look to step back onto the podium.

NBCSports.com/figure-skating spoke to the team, a couple on and off the ice, after competition wrapped up in Detroit. They discussed their refreshed attitude toward their abbreviated season, what they like about Montreal, their new training base, and the awesome gift mother nature gave Chock and their dogs.

Chock called it “eye-opening” to see how their coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, navigate married life after they retired from competitive skating.

“Understanding [their] dynamic has been good for us,” Bates added. “We really look to them as role models. We’ve never had a problem being a couple off the ice and on the ice. But I think being around them the last six months, seeing what life can be after skating, has been a revelation for us: how they live their lives and how they also still obviously are involved in the sport heavily. You see the love they have for each other, the way they take care of each other, and their daughter.”

I was wondering about the pace of this season. It seems so different than anything you are used to. You said you trained six months for three competitions in five weeks. How has that been?

Chock: It’s been a very different season for us. I think the time off recovering was a blessing in disguise. We just feel like it reignited our passion for skating – not that we ever really lost it. But we feel reinvigorated. We’re ready to push on to the next three years because that’s our goal, to go to the next Olympics. We feel like we’re in a very good place and we’re on the right path. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and trusting the process and our coaches.

Bates: We feel fresh. For most people, [Nationals is the] fourth, fifth competition of the year. For us, just the second. I think that can be a good thing for us because there are seven weeks to train for Worlds. I think we’ll be peaking at the right time. I’m sure our coaches will take care of that for us. We feel fresh, reinvigorated a little bit. I think after the last quad and the Olympics, it was necessary for us to take a break. The surgery was obviously not the best of situations.

Chock: It’s not ideal to ever have surgery to begin with.

Bates: Right, you don’t want to have surgery if you don’t need surgery. But the break in and of itself was very good for us.

Chock: It came at a good time.

Bates: If you just dive right back in again [to the Olympic cycle] it can feel daunting, especially for us, going for our third Games together. Four years is long.

Your free dance seems like a really good vehicle to show off your rediscovered passion.

Bates: We’ve never had more fun or had more joy on competitive ice than we had [during our free dance]. Part of it was being home in Detroit. Part of it was being back after 10 months. And part of it is the program. The program is just very fun. I think it caters to a sold-out crowd like we had. Audience was amazing. Within the first minute, I felt them. I could hear them screaming. It helped us so much to just let it loose in the last minute, when the rock and roll piece came on. We were just like, ‘This is what we’ve missed and what we’ve been working for.’ Those moments that you just want to bottle up and just remember forever. It was very special.

Plus, we noticed you lip syncing during it.

Chock: I was just having so much fun. Like you feel a song, you like it. You just start singing it. I really don’t like lip syncing. Don’t do it. But I was feeling it.

Bates: If it’s natural and organic, it’s just part of the performance.

Chock: Maybe I was actually singing, I don’t know. [laughs]

Evan, one thing I’ve heard you say in the past is that you don’t love competing in tuxedos. Yet, in both programs this season…

Chock: I think a full tux and tail is undesirable.

Bates: I think the guys in the change room are often complaining about jackets and layers. It’s hot usually out there. We like to moan about it in the locker room.

Chock: You look great.

Bates: For the short it’s fine. For the free, I didn’t want to wear a tuxedo or anything. So, we compromised. I’ve got a bowtie.

How did you decide on relocating to Montreal to train this season?

Chock: We were looking to make a change. We felt like we had more to give to the sport and we wanted to really push ourselves and grow. We felt like Montreal would be the best place for us to do that. Really the only place that we wanted to go.

Bates: We were just craving the atmosphere. You look at what they built and the results in PyeongChang. That’s the school to be at when you get gold, silver and almost bronze. They undeniably have the best camp.

I think also for us, we’ve had success. We’ve been on the world podium. We need to be with people – we want to be with people who are better than us, pushing us, beating us. So, we have that kind of motivation on a daily basis to… it’s right in front of you, you know what I mean? It can only make you better if you have the right mindset about it. Everyone at the rink has the best mindset about it. That’s the great thing. They foster this camaraderie and this attitude that we’re all there to make each other better. It’s working. It’s working really well.

That sounds like an environment that can only work if you have the right teams there, those that can play well with others, that kind of thing.

Chock: Absolutely.

Bates: Sure. I think that’s also part of it.

Chock: The school they’ve created with the coaches and with the teams that they have, everyone really gets on well. We’re very good friends. I think that’s a huge aspect of it. Bringing each other up is so important. You have to be around the right people in order to do that.

Bates: I think everybody there has experienced the highs and lows themselves. Everybody has their own journey. But at the same time, nobody can relate to say, what we’ve been through, more so than the team right next door who’s also been through their own trials and tribulations. There’s a real understanding of what it takes to be in the sport for this long, to get to a certain level. I feel like a respect for each other.

Chock: Respect for the other teams, too.

Bates: That’s what I mean. I have a lot of respect for the teams at the rink. I think it’s mutual. And that’s part of why it works.

Plus, your coaches aren’t that far removed from competition, about 10 or 12 years. I wonder if this is the kind of training environment they would’ve wanted for themselves.

Chock: Exactly. That’s why Marie and Patch created the school that they have. When they were training, it wasn’t an option for them to stay in Canada. There wasn’t a training school like that for them. They had to leave their country and train in France. I think that was really hard for them, to have to move. That was what Patch said, he wanted to make a school in North America, for North American teams so there would be that foundation for skaters. We’re really grateful that he did because they’ve created something really special.

Bates: I love that they just went through it themselves. It’s so relatable. Who better to mentor us and guide us than people who literally, I was watching at the Olympics. I was watching them win world medals. I was like, ‘Man that’s my coach! That’s so weird.’ I would’ve never expected it. I think when you see what’s happened with their coaching career from Sochi to PyeongChang, it just has exploded. I think they have the right principles and values and they’re great role models. They’ve built a school that’s going to last.

Finally, changing gears. Can you explain what happened on your porch when it froze over? Was that intentional?

Chock: Oh yea! Mother nature did that.

Bates: We’re in Canada. They make ice rinks like at any given possibility. People in our apartment cleared the snow. There was ice, and then there was snow on top of it. Then people brushed the snow aside. But it was a natural rink.

Chock: It was like my dream come true. We got out there, we were walking the dogs, like ‘Oh my god. This is all ice. I’m gonna go get my skates!’

The dogs were like, ‘She’s moving so fast! Oh wait, she’s coming back towards us, run this way! Wait, she’s going that way, let’s run this way.’ They wanted to follow me but then they would get close to my skates and then freak out, run the other way.

MORE: Chock and Bates win ice dance gold at Four Continents

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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