Olympic ice dance favorites Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France will skip the last significant competition before the Winter Games, withdrawing from next week’s European Championships to protect themselves against the coronavirus, according to the French Figure Skating Federation.
The move means that Papadakis and Cizeron, the 2018 Olympic silver medalists and four-time world champions, will go into the Olympics having not competed against their top rivals, Russians Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, since January 2020.
Sinitsina and Katsalapov handed Papadakis and Cizeron their only defeat of this Olympic cycle at the January 2020 European Championships. Papadakis and Cizeron then sat out the entire COVID-affected 2020-21 campaign, with the Russians winning last season’s world title.
This season, the two couples competed in different Grand Prix events with the French posting higher scores. They would have faced off at December’s Grand Prix Final, but that event was canceled due to the pandemic.
“Having that reminder of the masterful quality that they [the French] possess was just such an important standard to have returned to the world of ice dance,” Tanith White, a 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist and NBC Sports analyst, said last month. “It’s not as though they started the season off, and have just held what they had. They started the season off and continued to evolve and develop and grow. So I feel like their trajectory is looking great.”
The Russians withdrew from their national championships two weeks ago before the free dance, citing Katsalapov’s recurring back injury, but were still named to the team for Europeans and are expected to be named to the Olympic team, too.
“When I put those two teams head to head, at this point, the French have the clear advantage,” White said before Russian Nationals. “It’s not as though Sinitsina and Katsalapov haven’t been performing well, it’s just that they haven’t necessarily had perfect training conditions. So those performances aren’t yet entirely optimized.”
Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who will battle for a national title this week, are also Olympic medal contenders.
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