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.
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.
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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.
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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