Madison Chock and Evan Bates pulled off a rare feat in top-level ice dancing — reclaiming a national title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Chock and Bates, two-time Olympic partners, became the first U.S. skater, couple or pair to go five years between national titles in many decades. They clinched it in Saturday’s free dance with an Egyptian snake performance to distance two-time defending champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.
“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said.
The margin of victory: 4.67 points, the largest in U.S. ice dance since Meryl Davis and Charlie White completed their dominant run in 2014. Chock and Bates led by 1.32 after Friday’s rhythm dance.
They returned atop the podium after finishing second or third at the last four nationals. A second act like this can be hard to come by in ice dance, where the longstanding politics of judging most come into play. Once couples fall out of favor, they usually stay there.
The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday with the men’s free skate in Greensboro, N.C., live on NBC Sports.
Chock and Bates came out of the Sochi Olympics as the top U.S. couple, succeeding Davis and White. But they dropped behind both Hubbell and Donohue and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani going into the PyeongChang Olympics (where they placed ninth).
After that, Chock underwent ankle surgery. The couple moved from Michigan to Montreal. They now train with Hubbell and Donohue, U.S. bronze medalists Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.
“The trajectory for our skating right now is great,” Bates said. “Our mindset is right. Our coaching team is right. Our connection is as strong as ever, and we’re going to keep riding it.”
Hubbell said she and Donohue came out of their first free dance element, a spin, in the wrong direction. That caused them to continue facing the wrong way for their next four elements.
“The rotational lift, there’s a large leg flair that looks very cool going the opposite direction,” Hubbell said. “Today, I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”
Internationally, Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue rank fourth and fifth in the world by best scores this season. A U.S. couple earned a medal at 10 of the last 11 world championships, but no gold since 2013.
Make it two potentially landscape-altering ice dance results on Saturday. Papadakis and Cizeron were beaten at the European Championships, their first loss to a couple other than retired Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir since December 2014.
“I’m hoping that it has a surge of fans,” Hubbell said of that result, “because there’s nothing more boring than knowing the outcome before it happens.”
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