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Madison Chock, Evan Bates back on Grand Prix circuit with ‘new power’

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GRENOBLE, France – Madison Chock and Evan Bates have always been known for their mastery of edges, their footwork, and sheer generosity they display on the ice. Since they arrived in their new training base in Montréal some 18 months ago, they have developed a new charisma and interpretation skills, which give each of their performances an enhanced intensity, impact, and visibility.

How did they achieve such a transformation?

“I don’t know! The charming of the snake maybe?” Chock suggested with a laugh after their “Egyptian snake” themed free dance in at Grand Prix France, where the couple earned silver a silver medal.

The “charming” is efficient: one could even argue there has been a complete change of style for the team, who is now much more consistent and powerful than it used to be. That change was obvious from their rhythm dance and confirmed by their free dance during their first Grand Prix outing of the season.

“That may be due to our evolution as performers, more than [as] athletes,” Bates added. “Performing has become our new motto: at the point we are in our careers, it’s more about the performance than about the technicalities. Our free program is a good example of this. Now we are more focused on our story, on the energy of the program, on the connection between the two of us. It’s a good a mindset to have, and it has changed our skating.”

Managing such a transformation is not easy, at a point in their career when most skaters just capitalize on their names and past performance. After all, Chock and Bates have been Olympians together twice already (in 2014 and 2018), they have won medals at two world championships (silver, 2015; bronze, 2016) and at two Grand Prix Finals (silver in 2014 and 2015). And they claimed gold at Four Continents in 2019.

“They allowed us to put them in discomfort, so that we could help them crack the mold they were in,” explained Marie-France Dubreuil, who coaches them with Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer in Montréal.

“We’ve always been willing to keep learning and improving – in our sport, but that applies also to all the aspects of our lives,” Chock confirmed.

“There is a new dynamic between the two of them,” Haguenauer added.

“And even a new power,” Dubreuil continued. “At one point, when [Chock] was injured, I saw [Bates] skate by himself and I was struck to see how powerful he was when he was by himself. As if he was re-training himself when his partner was with him. Evan is tall, powerful. We tried to help him be more aligned with his blade-to-ice contacts, more controlled. Both are hyper-elegant. So, we tried to free the machine and let it go.”

“Since we’ve arrived in Montréal, we have become more dancers, and less skaters,” Bates added. “This is also what you see from [training partners] Gabriella [Papadakis] and Guillaume [Cizeron]. They can be on skates and they could be off skates, and they would still be just as beautiful. They transcend the ice.”

Part of the impact of Chock and Bates’ performances is due to a renewed set of interpretation skills, something the school in Montréal has also been known for.

“Madison has always been a great performer,” Bates acknowledged. “I am working not to be only the guy next to her, or who is presenting her. It’s more our couple now, a man and a woman on the ice. It’s so natural for her to drive everybody’s eyes. But at the same time, it’s also a big responsibility for me to skate with someone who is so talented.”

“Of course, the choreographic work is paying off,” Dubreuil explained. “For us every movement has to bear a meaning. A movement is not there to fill the music, but to bring to it.”

That’s also a part of Chock and Bates’ transformation: embodying each of their movements.

“A lot of it is a feeling,” Bates explained. “When we are choreographing, some things work and some don’t. Those things that come to us naturally, that’s where the movement becomes authentic.”

“Also, every program evolves with time,” Chock added. “It changes with the speed and more complex elements you add on through the season. Gestures have to come from a very genuine place within us. When a movement comes organically, it becomes clear that it needs to be in the program.”

The transformation of the team should also be highly visible in Chongqing, China, where they are due to compete this weekend for Cup of China, just one week after Grand Prix France.

“Doing two Challenger Series earlier in the season [they won both the U.S. Classic and Finlandia Trophy] was a good thing for us,” Bates offered. “Our two programs are now in place.”

Their new style is, too. For the better.

MORE: Will Nathan Chen return to six quad jumps in his free skate?

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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John Isner leaning toward skipping Olympics again

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John Isner, the highest-ranked U.S. male singles tennis player, is considering skipping the Olympics for a second straight time.

“I haven’t put a ton of thought into it, but as of right now, I think I’m leaning towards not playing,” the 19th-ranked player said at the Australian Open on Tuesday. “It’s about scheduling. I know the Olympics, it’s a fantastic honor. There’s no doubt about that. … Right now, at this stage in my career, it’s not a huge priority for me. So that’s probably the main reason I won’t be going. I certainly love playing in the summer in America, and I’m going to focus on that.”

The Tokyo Games take place the same week as a lower-level ATP Tour event in Atlanta that Isner, a former University of Georgia star, has won five times.

Other notable male players already said they will pass on Tokyo, including Sam Querrey, the top American in Olympic qualifying standings.

Austrian Dominic Thiem, a two-time French Open finalist, is prioritizing an ATP event in Kitzbühel the week of the Olympics. The U.S. doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan are not planning to play the Olympics in their final season before retirement, their manager said in November.

“The Olympics is very tough on the schedule … especially with Davis Cup,” Isner said in 2016, according to USA Today. “I think the fact that they have no [ATP ranking] points [at the Olympics], to be honest, was a pretty big factor as well. Obviously the Olympics is not about the money, but no points I think hindered me a bit.”

Isner, who turns 35 on April 26, is likely giving up his last chance to play Olympic singles. In his only Olympic participation, he reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 London Games, plus lost an opening-round doubles match there with Andy Roddick.

The top four U.S. men qualify for Tokyo, assuming they are among the top 60 overall qualifiers (maximum four per country) after this spring’s French Open.

Taylor FritzReilly Opelka, Steve Johnson and Tommy Paul are the U.S. men currently in Olympic qualifying position if excluding Querrey and Isner.

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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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