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Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

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World ice dance champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron sat for an interview with NBCSports.com/figure-skating after winning their first Grand Prix event of the season at home in France.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and condensed.

Your free dance this season, an extended poem set to music, is different from anything ice dance fans are used to. How did you come up with this idea?

Papadakis: Several of us had the same idea at the same time. We thought we could use words to skate to. [Coach] Marie [-France Dubreuil] and I, in particular. That’s often what happens. We all intuitively find ourselves to be on the same page. This year we felt like skating to words.

Cizeron: We also found some videos of ballet dancers dancing to Forest Black’s songs, and we could imagine what it might be. So, we worked with those words.

Could you describe the creative process you followed?

Papadakis: We didn’t want only to show something beautiful. We really worked on each word and its meaning. We tried to find a specific movement to express each word of the lyrics.

Cizeron: Our idea was to stick to the interpretation of each word through specific body movements. The sonority and the rhythm of these words inspired a certain way to move. This gave us an additional opportunity to create some contemporary movements – instead of dancing something that would just be meant to be beautiful.

Papadakis: The poem doesn’t bear an obvious and clear meaning. It’s rather abstract. But when I heard it for the first time, I felt a rhythm, a specific way to pronounce the words, how the artist played with the noise behind him, and how he projected us out of reality. Afterwards, I read the text as a whole, and of course I found it was magnificent.

In this poem you feel something like an atmosphere, an idea, an emotion, even though you don’t know exactly what the author may be talking about. It creates a somewhat abstract ambiance, which we like.

Cizeron: Also, we’ve always had the wish to integrate poetry into our free programs.

So, you feel that while it’s different from past ideas, you’re also taking one step further down the path you’ve already been following?

Papadakis: That’s right. Abstract and poetry are two tracks we’ve always been following. They are combined in this year’s free dance.

Cizeron: In a way, it’s completely different from what we’ve done, but at the same time it’s completely ourselves. The process we are taking is to deepen who we are each time a bit more.

What are you chasing, now that you’ve won four world and five European titles, plus an Olympic silver medal? Medals, or history?

Papadakis: Both, if it’s possible. Winning titles wouldn’t be enough to make us wake up early every morning. We would love to mark the history of our sport and the audience.

Cizeron: They go together, actually, and one serves the other. Pushing ourselves in our artistic journey generates medals. And because there are medals at stake, [it] motivates us to create.

You said that your “Fame”/disco-themed rhythm dance was fun. How fun was it to create?

Cizeron: When [coach] Romain [Haguenauer] proposed “Fame” to us, we went to see some videos. I brought the movie.

Papadakis: We found the 1980s were a very funny period of time. People were wearing those big stockings and small shorts and fluorescent outfits and headbands. That was too much, but so funny at the same time.

Cizeron: The more it went, and the more interested we got. We all dreamt in front of movies like “Flashdance,” “Un Dos Tres,” … We’ve seen all dancers’ movies, and they’ve made us dream.

Papadakis: When you watch these movies, you kind of think, wow, they were so lucky. They had a school and they were together. Then we realized that it was pretty much our own life. We also are living in a school, and learning, and practicing together, all vying to succeed.

Cizeron: We were rather worried to do something that would look ridiculous – or to give those years a ridiculous outlook. We wanted to push the cool and fun side of this period, with the vintage outfits, not too serious, and update with our own look of people who were born in 1994.

And yet, again you manage to deliver a story during the program.

Cizeron: Many fans who were born in the 1980s keep thanking us for selecting that theme. That’s so cool. We remind them of their younger years, and that creates an additional link with the audience.

Of course, we can’t be nostalgic for years we’ve not lived ourselves, but our dance generates that nostalgia in those who’ve lived them. I went to ask my parents if they really dressed that way. My mom did – because as a dance teacher she did dance ballet and jazz. But my dad obviously answered “No, not at all.”

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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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2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

Kara Eaker
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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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