Madison Chock, Evan Bates win ice dance at figure skating nationals; Olympic medal next?

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Finally, it is Madison Chock and Evan Bates‘ turn to go into the Olympics with the most respected title in U.S. figure skating these days: ice dance national champions.

Chock and Bates bettered training partners Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue over two programs, totaling 227.37 points in Nashville. They prevailed by 1.78 over Hubbell and Donohue to win their third national title together.

Each of the last eight U.S. dance titles has been decided by five or fewer points. Before that, Meryl Davis and Charlie White won four consecutive dance titles by 10 or more points.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who train with Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue in Montreal, finished third to likely grab the third and final U.S. Olympic ice dance spot. A selection committee will make it official later Saturday night.

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Bates will become the first U.S. figure skater to compete in four Olympics. He, perhaps better than anyone, knows the importance of going into the Games as the leading American couple.

In the last four Olympics, the U.S. won a total of six figure skating medals (not counting team event). Four of those six medals came in ice dance, but the U.S. has never put multiple dance couples on one Olympic podium.

That likely won’t change in Beijing.

The Olympic favorites are French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the 2018 silver medalists who have lost once in this Olympic cycle. (The 2018 gold medalists, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, retired after PyeongChang.)

Russians Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov are the reigning world champions, and beat Papadakis and Cizeron in their last head-to-head at the January 2020 European Championships.

Last month, NBC Sports analyst Tanith White, a 2006 Olympic silver medalist, tiered several couples with the Russians, including both Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue. Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, the world bronze medalists, rank third in the world this season, but the American couples are within one and a half points of them.

It’s close, reputation matters in figure skating — especially dance — and Chock and Bates have momentum.

They partnered in 2011 and had to wait their turn behind Davis and Charlie White, who retired after winning the 2014 Olympics. Chock and Bates ascended to the top U.S. dance couple in 2015, winning gold at nationals and silver at the world championships.

But by the end of the 2018 Olympic cycle, they fell to third in the nation and ninth at the Olympics. They persevered, won their first national title in five years in 2020 and were fourth at last season’s worlds, one spot behind Hubbell and Donohue, who plan to retire after this season.

Now Chock and Bates have the kind of confidence they did seven years ago, but this time it’s at the end of an Olympic cycle rather than at the beginning.

“Now I feel like the momentum is good for us,” Bates said.

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