Papadakis, Cizeron lead rhythm dance; Americans within striking distance to podium

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Three-time World Champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are on the verge of title No. 4, as they outscored the rest of the ice dance field after Friday’s rhythm dance by a margin of 4.48 points in Saitama, Japan.

Each of the French couple’s elements were awarded Level 4 and they notched a season’s best 88.42 points while skating to selections from Astor Piazzolla.

“We chose a more classical music to show the passion of the Tango without anything artificial,” Cizeron said, according to the ISU.

Russia’s Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov also performed to selections from Piazzolla, earning Level 4s on all of their elements. They scored 83.94 points, good enough for second place.

“We haven’t had such a result in a while in Russian ice dance,” Katsalapov said, noting that the most recent Russian medal in ice dance at a World Championship came in 2013. “I hope that tomorrow everything goes well and we will show a high-quality skating.”

Their Russian teammates joined them inside the top three, as Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin scored a season’s best 83.10 points to vault them into third place. All of the elements in their rhythm dance were also called Level 4.

Neither of the Russian teams has ever won a world medal before. The last time no Americans were on an ice dance podium at a World Championships was 2014, when the event also took place in Saitama, Japan.

Full results are here.

Two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue scored a season’s best 83.09, a razor-thin 0.01 points out of third place, in their clean rhythm dance also set to selections from Piazzolla. All of their elements were called Level 4 and they are currently in fourth place ahead of Friday night’s free dance.

“We were pleased today to give out a strong performance,” Hubbell said through U.S. Figure Skating. “We got all Level 4s, which was our goal. It’s a great start to our competition.”

Hubbell and Donohue were fourth at the PyeongChang Olympics but weeks later captured silver medals at the 2018 World Championships.

February’s Four Continents gold medalists, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, skated a clean rhythm dance to the recognizable “Assassin’s Tango” from the 2005 movie “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” Each of their elements was called a Level 4 and their rhythm dance scored a season’s best 82.32 points.

Chock and Bates own World Championship silver (2015) and bronze (2016) medals and are looking for a return to the podium in Saitama. They are currently in sixth place.

“Coming into the World Championships, we wanted to reset,” Chock said. “We’ve made some changes to our programs so we had a lot to focus on. The programs feel refreshed and new and different, so for us we were excited to come here and show them off. It felt great to perform for the audience today.”

A look at how tight the standings are behind the French team after the rhythm dance:

  1. Papadakis/Cizeron: 88.42
  2. Sinitsina/Katsalapov: -4.48
  3. Stepanova/Bukin: -5.32
  4. Hubbell/Donohue: -5.33
  5. Weaver/Poje: -5.58
  6. Chock/ Bates: -6.10

The third U.S. team in the field, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, made their second World Championships appearance with a 75.90-point rhythm dance. Hawayek’s twizzles were awarded a Level 3 and Baker’s a Level 4, and their first pattern and their midline step sequence got a Level 3. The rest of their program was called a Level 4 and they are in ninth place.

“It was a really good performance for us,” Hawayek said. “This program is a special program to us. It was a new style and we really enjoyed the challenge of the new style. I think we were happy with putting out another solid performance today.”

The free dance begins on Friday at 11:30 p.m. ET.

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short | Alina Zagitova wins first world title

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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IOC pledges €500,000 to help restore Notre Dame ahead of 2024 Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee plans to donate €500,000 ($562,000) to the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in the 2024 Olympic host city.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that he wants to see Notre Dame restored within five years.

“The aim of completing the reconstruction in time for Paris 2024 will be an extra motivation for all of us,” IOC president Thomas Bach wrote in a Wednesday letter to Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet, according to a translation by Agence France-Presse, which reported Notre Dame is on the planned marathon and road cycling routes. “All the Olympic Movement and in particular the IOC have been extremely touched by the instantaneous connection the French have made between Notre Dame cathedral and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

More than $500 million has been pledged overall from around the globe after a fire ravaged the 850-year-old cathedral on Monday.

NBC News has more on the Notre Dame fire here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Patrick Kane joined by NHL All-Stars on world championship roster

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NHL All-Stars Jack EichelRyan Suter and Cory Schneider join previously named captain Patrick Kane to lead the U.S. at next month’s world hockey championship in Slovakia, seeking the nation’s first title at a standalone worlds since 1933.

Sixteen players were added to the roster in Thursday’s announcement with more to come before worlds open May 10 and more teams get eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, making more players available. The IIHF allows up to 25 players per nation.

Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill will be the U.S. head coach for a third straight worlds. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals in 2017 and earned bronze in 2018, sandwiching an Olympic quarterfinal exit in PyeongChang without NHL players.

Sweden is trying to become the first nation to three-peat at worlds since the Czech Republic in 2001.

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Preliminary IIHF World Championship Roster
Forwards

Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks)
Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres)
Luke Glendening (Detroit Red Wings)
Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)
Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes)
Chris Kreider (New York Rangers)
Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings)
James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia Flyers)
Frank Vatrano (Florida Panthers)
Colin White (Ottawa Senators)

Defensemen
Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks)
Alec Martinez (Los Angeles Kings)
Brady Skjei (New York Rangers)
Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild)

Goalies
Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks)
Cayden Primeau (Laval (AHL))
Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils)