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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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Canadian ice dancers overcome hair-raising wardrobe malfunction

Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier
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Ice dancer Piper Gilles‘ hair got caught in partner Paul Poirier‘s costume during the Canadian Championships rhythm dance, but the couple still posted the top score in Mississauga, Ontario, on Friday.

As they spun together, Gilles’ hair appeared to catch on one of Poirier’s shirt buttons. It stayed that way for about five seconds as the couple nearly came to a stop before Poirier untangled it. What was Gilles thinking?

“Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap,” she said later. “It’s probably more swear words to that, but crap at that moment.

“It was like one of those pure panic moments, like, what do I do? Do we stop? Do we keep going? Paul’s like, just keep moving.”

Gilles and Poirier scored 88.86 points, taking an 11.6-point lead into the free dance.

The couple eyes their first national title after finishing second or third seven times in the last eight years behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Gilles and Poirier rank fifth in the world this season.

The panicky moment Friday was reminiscent of the PyeongChang Olympics, where French ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress strap broke, exposing her breast. Papadakis and partner Guillaume Cizeron took silver and have been undefeated since.

MORE: Figure skating season TV schedule

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Allison Schmitt opens 2020 in fast form, bidding to join U.S. Olympic legends

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Allison Schmitt, after failing to qualify for world championships teams, revealing a battle with depression and taking nearly two years off competition post-Rio, has a chance to swim at her fourth Olympics this summer. And to do it in an individual event for the first time since 2012.

Schmitt won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.01 at the Tyr Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday night.

The time would have ranked second among Americans in 2019 behind Katie Ledecky. Ledecky is not swimming in Knoxville, but the 2012 Olympic champion and American record holder Schmitt beat Simone Manuel by 1.24 seconds.

“Wish I could say I was tapered, would make it feel a lot easier,” Schmitt said on NBCSN. “Getting better every time I jump in the water and swim in finals.”

Schmitt’s time marked her fastest outside of a major summer meet since the 2012 London Games. She’s bidding to become the third U.S. woman in her 30s to swim an individual event at an Olympics, joining 12-time medalists Dara Torres (who swam in her 40s) and Jenny Thompson.

Full Knoxville results are here. Broadcast coverage of the meet continues Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Swimmers are preparing for June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event qualify for the Tokyo Games, plus extra 100m and 200m free swimmers for relays.

In other events Friday, 18-year-old Carson Foster took the men’s 200m free in 1:47.74, beating the U.S.’ top 400m freestyler, Zane Grothe, by 1.33 seconds.

Foster, younger than any U.S. Olympic male swimmer since a group including Michael Phelps in 2000, is better known for his individual medleys. But the 200m free offers up to six Olympic spots when including the 4x200m free relay.

“Any event where there’s more spots on the line this summer is an event I want to train for,” said Foster, who ranked outside the top 10 in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2019 and beat a field Friday that included none of the six fastest.

Annie Lazor won the 100m breaststroke in 1:06.68, a time congruent with her No. 2 ranking in the U.S. last year behind Olympic champion and world-record holder Lilly King. King, who trains with Lazor, is not competing in Knoxville.

In the 100m butterfly, 29-year-old Amanda Kendall upset top-ranked American Kelsi Dahlia in 57.65 seconds. Regan Smith, the fastest backstroker in history, was second in a personal-best 57.86, followed by Dahlia.

MORE: Australian swim star issues plea after hometown hit by fires

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