Russians Sinitsina, Katsalapov take early lead over U.S. teams in race for first ice dance world title

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With the absence of four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, ice dance was the only discipline at the 2021 ISU World Figure Skating Championships guaranteed to crown a new world champion.

Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, representing the Russian Skating Federation this year, lead two U.S. teams in the tightly contested battle for gold midway through the competition, scoring 88.15 points for their “Singin’ in the Rain” rhythm dance on Friday.

After taking the silver medal at the last world championships in 2019, Sinitsina and Katsalapov are on their way to earning the first ice dance world title for Russia since 2009.

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“We are very, very happy just to be here,” Sinitsina said. “We waited very long time for this. We’ve been going through it, and we are so happy to be here and compete against all the other guys. … We are thrilled with the work we did today and before the competition, so we feel great. We skated with our soul and we enjoyed it.”

Worlds is the first competition for the 2020 European champions since both skaters contracted COVID-19 in December.

Challenging them are Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Both teams have earned silver and bronze medals at past world championships, but this year could become the first U.S. world champions since Meryl Davis and Charlie White in 2013.

“We definitely want to win the gold,” three-time Olympian Bates said. “We think the work that we put in and the training that we’ve done has prepared us really well for this event. We’re as strong as we’ve ever been, and we’re feeling confident. We have great programs, and we just love to skate. I think that really comes across when we’re performing. Today it certainly did, and we’ll try to do the same tomorrow, but the goal is to win the gold.”

Hubbell and Donohue’s “Burlesque” program earned 86.05 points – a new IJS personal best for the team, while Chock and Bates’ “Too Darn Hot” performance, which they kept from the 2019-2020 season, was less than one point behind with 85.15.

“That program had been a little bit harder than the free dance to find our groove, and we felt like this week we really were able to perform it and find our strengths,” Hubbell reflected. “We’re enjoying this little high that comes out of a good performance, and then we’ll focus later tonight on the free dance.”

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, three-time U.S. bronze medalists, sit in 11th with 75.08 points.

The top two U.S. teams have been neck and neck domestically throughout this Olympic cycle, with Hubbell and Donohue typically leading the way, though Chock and Bates came on strong last season, winning both the U.S. and Four Continents titles.

Both will show off standout free dances on Saturday to close out worlds, with Hubbell and Donohue’s “Hallelujah” performance and Chock and Bates’ “The Snake and the Snake Charmer,” also a reprise from last season.

“Especially when we haven’t competed against most of these teams since the [Grand Prix] Final last year, since December [2019], we’ve spoken a lot this week about we can’t know whether our best is enough to win,” Hubbell said. “You just don’t know. You don’t know the panel [of judges], you don’t know what could happen. We could skate well tomorrow and come second, we could skate okay tomorrow and win. We won’t know when we step out on the ice what it will take. We’re just going to show our best… I want to win, I hope tomorrow we’re standing on the top of the podium. That’s what our goal is.”

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