Madison Chock and Evan Bates
Courtesy of Chock and Bates

Chock and Bates together on the ice, at home together during pandemic

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates work together in the fullest and most intertwined sense, two athletes who have fused into a couple as both competitors and entertainers during a nine-year partnership.

They also live together, as partners in the more common sense of such a relationship.

For the past three years, that has made the 2020 U.S. and Four Continents ice dance champions a 24/7 couple, a situation few people have experienced in their lives.

Until the last month, that is. Now tens of millions of couples around the globe have suddenly found themselves spending almost every minute of the day and night in each other’s presence because of the need to slow the spread of coronavirus by social distancing from all but those they normally live with.

So, much to their bemusement, Chock and Bates have suddenly been in demand as relationship counselors.

“You’re cooped up with your significant other, and for people who usually see each other just a few hours a day, it’s like, ‘What is happening?’” Bates said in a FaceTime interview this week. “We’re a pretty young couple, but older people are asking us how we get along spending so much time together.

“It’s pretty funny that people are turning to ice dancers for relationship advice. We’ve heard that ice dance is really like a marriage. I guess that must be true since we’ve got married couples asking for advice.”

Since they last skated together on “real” ice March 13 (more on that later), two days after the cancellation of the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships, Chock, 27, and Bates, 31, have been pretty much confined to their two-bedroom Montreal apartment with their toy poodles, Henry and Stella. The dogs have never had it so good: long, looong, looooong walks at least twice a day and constant human companionship.

“They are living their best lives right now,” Chock said, laughing.

As badly as they miss skating, Chock and Bates are managing to avoid the pitfalls that could accompany the annoying absence of the activity they love while in the constant presence of the person they love. The two-time world medalists find themselves less bothered by little irritants than they have been sometimes after a long day at the rink.

“When we’re skating and training hard, we could come home tired and hungry, and little things would get to us,” Chock said.

“We’re lucky because we started first as friends and partners and began dating many years later,” Bates added. “The foundation of our partnership and relationship is all about friendship and fun. Yes, we’re spending all this time together, but we’ve been laughing and having a good time.”

It has been a medal-winning partnership since their second season together, 2012-13. They have made the podium at eight straight U.S. Championships (two titles), all six of their Four Continents Championships appearances (two titles), three Grand Prix Finals and 12 straight other Grand Prix events dating to 2013. They have competed in the last two Olympics, finishing eighth and ninth (Bates was in a third, 2010, with a different partner).

After backsliding on the world stage the previous three seasons, this was shaping up as their best season ever. They finished second at the Grand Prix Final, had the largest winning margin at nationals since eventual Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White in 2014, and their eye-catching, Egyptian snake dance-themed free dance got better and more compelling with every competition.

That made the world meet cancellation even more disappointing to Chock and Bates, especially since it was to take place in their adopted home of Montreal. They have trained with many of the world’s other top ice dancers at the Ice Academy of Montreal since the summer of 2018.

MORE: Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 figure skating season

And that is why they got a needed lift from how fast the Ice Academy staff created a virtual training program for its athletes, beginning barely a week after its rink was closed. The program includes three nutrition seminars a week, teaching the skaters how to alter their diets because they are not as physically active.

“It really helped us mentally to have a structure in place as soon as they did,” Chock said. “When the worlds were cancelled, there was a lot of sadness and uncertainty. This allowed us to channel our emotions and not let all the hard training we had done just stop and go away.”

Tuesday, the sessions were an hour with a physical trainer, an hour of ballet and an hour of hip hop. Chock and Bates are lucky not to have neighbors below who might be disturbed by all the thumping and to have a room in the apartment they can dedicate to the workouts and another room they use for relaxation. Under normal circumstances, they have usually tried to leave their skating lives at the rink.

“It’s nice to have a separation between the two spaces,” Chock said.

They do body weight work such as squats, lunges, jumps, and pushups. They do yoga. They work with resistance bands. They have no free weights (“We lift the dogs,” Chock joked).

“It’s surprisingly very challenging,” Chock said of the five-days-per-week workouts.

“It’s pretty much everything we can do without getting on the ice,” Bates said.

They did get on “ice,” March 23. It was a tiny frozen patch in the courtyard of their apartment building, and it melted soon after they put on skates to record a short Instagram video.

This weekend, they will be involved in two skating-related projects.

Saturday, they will take part in “Open Ice,” streaming at 2 p.m. (EDT). It is a show co-produced by Canadian ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver that will include many of the greatest skaters in history as a fundraiser for the United Nations’ Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. (For full information, click here.)

Sunday from 1:30-2 p.m., Chock and Bates will host an Instagram live on U.S. Figure Skating’s Instagram account as a lead-in to an NBC broadcast (2-3 p.m. EDT) of “U.S. Figure Skating: A Season’s Best.”

“The pandemic… I don’t want to say it has made skating less important to us, but it has put into perspective how fortunate we are and how serious other matters in the world are,” Bates said.

“When we have an ice rink and are skating full-out, we get so tunnel-visioned about what we are working on. This makes you take more of a macro lens view of the world and where we fall into it with our skating and what it can give to the world – entertainment, hope, joy.”

“Moving forward,” Chock said, picking up Bates’ theme, “we hope to bring something positive after something that has been just so horribly negative for so many people, us included, but not to the degree as it has been so many others.”

The programs they do next season – if there is a next season – will depend in part on when they can get back on the ice. The International Skating Union has decided to let ice dancers keep the same rhythm dance theme and rhythm as last season. Chock and Bates still would like to show their snake dance free at a Worlds, but they also are thinking about other possibilities. So far, though, they have not been trying out new choreography in they simulated, sock-footed dancing they are doing on their apartment floors.

“It would take two months of being back on ice to get our bodies ready,” Chock said. “New programs would need much more time.”

Neither feels they will have an advantage over dance teams who are not living together in this isolation period.

“I don’t think that when we do compete again, whether or not we were together during the quarantine will affect much,” Bates said. “Couples who were apart might be so happy to see each other and skate together again, they will be more inspired.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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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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Noah Lyles’ unbelievable time comes with an oops at Inspiration Games

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Noah Lyles may one day break Usain Bolt‘s world record, but Thursday wasn’t going to be that day. Even if, for about five minutes, Lyles was the first man to break 19 seconds over 200m.

Lyles registered 18.90 seconds, racing alone against competitors simultaneously sprinting on tracks in Europe. The time was unbelievable, given Bolt’s world record was 19.19 seconds. Turns out, it was too good to be true.

Minutes later on the broadcast, commentator Steve Cram said that Lyles only ran 185 meters, starting from an incorrect place on his Florida track.

“You can’t be playing with my emotions like this,” tweeted Lyles, who raced in Sonic the Hedgehog socks. “Got me in the wrong lane smh.”

Lyles, 22, has run 66 official 200m races dating to 2013, according to Tilastopaja.org. He is the reigning world champion and the fourth-fastest man in history with a personal best of 19.50 seconds.

But he had never experienced what came Thursday, with few spectators and nobody else in adjacent lanes for the Inspiration Games, a socially distanced meet with Olympians competing against each other on different continents.

Perhaps the setting played a role in the mistake.

“It actually felt pretty good besides getting that full gust of wind,” Lyles, who ran into a registered 3.7 meter/second headwind, said before he knew his time or that he was 15 meters short.

Christophe Lemaitre, the Olympic bronze medalist from France, got the win in 20.65 seconds.

Earlier Thursday, Allyson Felix had a succinct reaction to the strangest victory of her sterling career.

“That’s weird,” she said after running 150 meters alone, in front of few spectators on a track in Walnut, California.

Officially, Felix ran 16.81 seconds — impressive, especially if the reported 2.6 meter/second headwind reading was accurate — to defeat Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world 200m bronze medalist Mujinga Kambundji.

Miller-Uibo raced alone in Florida. Kambundji was on her own in Zurich, the base of the Inspiration Games, a repurposed version of an annual Diamond League stop. The coronavirus pandemic is forcing meet organizers to get creative this summer.

Full meet results are here.

Felix, a 34-year-old mom with nine Olympic medals, called her event “very strange.”

“It feels sort of like practice, but not even because there’s really no teammates or anything,” she told 1996 Olympic decathlon champion Dan O’Brien at Mt. San Antonio College. “It’s hard to challenge yourself. I think that’s the big thing with running solo.”

Canadian Olympic medalist Andre De Grasse won a 100-yard race in 9.68 seconds, defeating French veteran Jimmy Vicaut (9.72) and Olympic 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica (9.87). De Grasse, Vicaut and McLeod raced together, in every other lane at a Florida track.

The 100 yards is scantly contested in top-level meets. Nobody has broken nine seconds in a 100-yard (91.44-meter) race, according to World Athletics. But Usain Bolt‘s estimated 100-yard time en route to his 2009 world record in the 100m was 8.87 seconds.

The regular Diamond League calendar is scheduled to resume in August.

“This was fun,” Felix said. “I can’t wait until we can do it in person.”

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Jeff Gadley, Willie Davenport changed bobsled as Winter Olympic pioneers

Jeff Gadley
Photos courtesy Jeff Jordan
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Jeff Gadley‘s life changed when a stranger in a car tailed him on a decathlon training run in Plattsburgh, N.Y., in 1978.

The driver was Al Hachigian, a veteran U.S. bobsledder on the lookout for new talent.

Hachigian found the right man. Gadley had just won the first Empire State Games decathlon and set sights on the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympic Trials. Once Hachigian got his attention, he asked the 23-year-old Gadley if he ever considered pushing a bobsled.

“Of course,” Gadley said. “I grew up in Buffalo.”

Hachigian looked at Gadley — undersized for a bobsledder at 5 feet, 8 inches, and no more than 180 pounds — and decided he was worth extending an invitation to a trials event for the 1978-79 season.

“I think you could do well,” Hachigian told Gadley. “But there are no Black bobsledders, so you kind of have to be a little bit prepared for some things.”

No problem, Gadley said.

A year and a half later, Gadley and a later bobsled convert — Willie Davenport, the 1968 Olympic 110m hurdles champion — became the first Black men to compete on a U.S. Winter Olympic team in any sport.

“It was a huge story,” leading up to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, Gadley said in a recent interview. “Since we were the first, people wanted to know how we felt. What you thought about the sport being traditionally white. My answer was always, look, I can’t attribute a particular color to playing out in the cold. To be the first African American ever to compete in the Winter Olympics, I think it’s nice. I think it broadens the thought process of people and maybe will bring, one day, stronger and faster athletes to the sport.”

Gadley and Davenport, push athletes in driver Bob Hickey‘s 12th-place sled at those Olympics, accelerated a line of accomplished athletes converting from track to bobsled. They were followed by, most famously, Edwin Moses, Renaldo NehemiahLauryn Williams and Lolo Jones. NFL players Willie Gault and Herschel Walker also pushed sleds.

“There is a myth in this country that says Blacks can’t make the American Winter Olympic team,” Davenport said, according to Jet magazine in 1980. “Jeff and I proved this to be wrong that you don’t have to be rich and white to make it.”

Back when Gadley joined the national team, it was all white and mostly men from around Lake Placid, home of the only Olympic-level bobsled track in the country.

“I’m sure a lot of these people had not been around African Americans before,” said Jeff Jordan, Gadley’s best friend from SUNY Plattsburgh who rounded out the four-man Olympic sled with Hickey, Gadley and Davenport.

Gadley excelled from the start, earning a spot at the 1979 World Championships. Not everyone on the team was excited about his quick rise. Gadley estimated that out of about 20 national team members, seven or eight didn’t like him because of his skin color. He knew about two definitively, witnessing a conversation at the worlds in Germany.

“The worst thing I heard is that someone didn’t want a Black guy on the back of their sled,” Gadley said. “The saddest part is knowing that, at the world championships, your own teammates don’t like you because of your color.

“I said, I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to ride on the back of his sled anyway, even if I’m told to. I said, I don’t want to be on the back of your sled, either, and I just left it at that.”

Gadley competed in another sled at worlds, finishing 10th.

“It wasn’t all about skin color,” Gadley said. “Part of it was about you’re breaking up a culture.”

The next season, Hickey, a veteran driver from Upstate New York, was looking to fill his sled with push athletes. He chose the new group of Gadley, Jordan and Davenport. They won the Olympic Trials, despite Jordan and Davenport being rookies (Davenport reportedly pushed a bobsled for the first time a month or two before trials).

“They were the first real world-class athletes to hit bobsledding,” Jordan said of Gadley and Davenport. “We pretty much crushed them [the local bobsledders at Trials], and they did not like it. I don’t know if they would have liked it, period. It didn’t matter what nationality or color.

“The only thing they knew was they were getting their butts kicked. I can’t say we were mistreated other than they would rather have their buddies on the Olympic team.”

Davenport, at 36, was 12 years removed from his Summer Olympic title and the oldest U.S. bobsledder in Lake Placid. While his speed was an asset, his lack of experience was evident, his teammates said.

“Willie was on the other side of his career,” Jordan said. “He brought a lot of notoriety. We were in People magazine, on Good Morning America. None of that would have happened without Willie’s presence. He wasn’t there for the same reason Jeff [Gadley] was there.

“If Willie had just been another Jeff Gadley, would we have gotten that attention? Maybe, eventually, but there was quite a bit of attention early on.”

Gadley, Hickey and Jordan, in recent interviews, remembered the buzz at the Lake Placid Games. Curt Gowdy, the Hall of Fame sportscaster, called bobsled for ABC. President Jimmy Carter‘s 12-year-old daughter, Amy, showed up one day.

The Americans finished more than six seconds behind the winning East German quartet, but were slowed to an unknown degree by inferior equipment. Hickey said that the East German driver, 39-year-old Meinhard Nehmer, told Gowdy that the Americans would have won if they had his sled.

“They came and went quick,” Hickey said of the Olympics. “We weren’t prepared.”

It marked the end of the Olympic careers for Davenport and Gadley. Davenport died in 2002.

Gadley gave up the decathlon after the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games was announced. He now lives in Texas with his wife.

Most of his Olympic mementos and photos were discarded or lost over the last 40 years. But Gadley was glad for the experience and feels fortunate for the opportunity, back when bobsled was a regional, if not local, sport.

“I would say pioneers would be a good word to use,” for Davenport and I, he said. “It was just a matter of exposure where I was and what I was doing [at the time]. It made an example to others that, hey, as a Black guy, if he’s doing it, I can do it, too.”

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Jeff Gadley