Madison Chock, back from concussion, joins Evan Bates to lead nationals ice dance

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance in their first competition in 11 months, and the first since Chock was off the ice for a month last summer due to a concussion.

“It felt really good to be able to be out on the ice and give a strong performance because we’ve been working very hard in training, and putting our best selves on the ice every practice we get the chance, and we’ve just been surrounded by incredible training mates and a supportive team that has navigated us during these uncertain times, and we’ve really come out stronger,” Chock said.

The defending champions, Chock and Bates became the first couple to break 90 points in a nationals rhythm dance, tallying 90.10 to edge training partners and two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue by .44 of a point.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who also train alongside them at Ice Academy of Montreal, are in third going into Saturday’s free dance, scoring 85.28.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results | TV Schedule

Chock and Bates, two-time world championships medalists, were off the ice from March to late June when rinks were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic in their home of Montreal.

Then in late July, Chock suffered a concussion when she fell and hit her head while walking on a day so hot that Montreal had a heat advisory.

“It was just an odd thing,” Chock recalled. “It was a really warm day one day during the summer. It was unprecedented heat, humidity. I had woken up dehydrated, hadn’t eaten anything. We went for a walk with the dogs, didn’t realize I was going to be so affected by dehydration and hunger, but then I got really lightheaded and passed out on my way into the apartment.”

Bates, part of an on-ice partnership with Chock for nearly a decade and an off-ice romance with her for four years, caught her as she fell walking up the stairs.

“[On the way back] she was just like, ‘Oh, I feel a little dizzy,'” Bates explained. “Then she just fainted, but I caught her, and her head just kind of rolled and bumped a stair. I didn’t think about a concussion at all – I didn’t realize that had happened. It wasn’t like a smashing hit to the floor.”

In the days that followed, Chock began to feel tired all the time. The fatigue was accompanied by lingering headaches and sensitivity to light and sound.

When they tried to skate and continue their offseason training, she became nauseous and remembers her body telling her it wasn’t ready to be on the ice.

Upon meeting with a doctor, Chock was diagnosed with a concussion.

“It just seemed like such a 2020 thing,” she jokes now. “I was like, ok, add it to the list. Is there a dumpster fire around the corner?”

Chock was grateful there were no competitions approaching and that she was able to take the full month away from the ice, recovering.

It was the first brain injury for either Chock or Bates, who have increased their own knowledge on the matter and hope to do so for others.

“People talk about concussions in football and hockey and these contact sports, but in figure skating there’s so much bright lights and loud music and things that are demanding for your brain, so taking the time to recover was super important,” Bates said.

They played it safe in passing on both the virtual ISP Points Challenge and Skate America in October, both won by Hubbell and Donohue.

On Friday, Chock and Bates outscored their training partners — barely — using the same “Too Darn Hot” rhythm dance from their resurgent 2019-20 season.

“There were certainly some emotions,” Bates said on NBCSN. “When we go out to perform, we really need to keep those in check.”

After spending a month off the ice, and knowing the 2020-21 season would have far fewer competitions, Chock and Bates chose to keep both of their programs from last season.

“We had less time, so we asked ourselves, ‘Do we really want to spend the time ramping back up, making new programs, or do we want to spend it improving our skating skills and performing programs that we know well?'” Chock said.

Added Bates, “We loved our free dance.”

So did the fans — and the judges.

Chock and Bates will be performing their snake dance-themed program on Saturday, which helped them return to the top of the podium at U.S. Championships after five years.

They won the 2015 U.S. title in the post-Olympic season, then settled for silver or bronze while siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani and Hubbell and Donohue finished ahead of them.

They were on an upward trajectory last season, taking the Four Continents gold medal shortly after the national title, and were looking forward to showing their programs at worlds, where they were favored to return to the podium for the first time since 2016, until it was cancelled just a few days prior to the start.

Now that they have been living with their programs for nearly twice as long as any prior ones, Chock and Bates were surprised to find that they still enjoy them.

“We definitely still do,” she said. “I think it’s because we made some modifications here and there to each program and they still feel fresh. We’re able to still find nuances in the music that we maybe hadn’t even heard last season, and now that we know it so well there’s more layers to add and details to pay attention to. …

“We’re happy to have another opportunity to skate these programs because we really love them.”

Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

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Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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