Papadakis, Cizeron lead rhythm dance; Americans within striking distance to podium

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Three-time World Champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are on the verge of title No. 4, as they outscored the rest of the ice dance field after Friday’s rhythm dance by a margin of 4.48 points in Saitama, Japan.

Each of the French couple’s elements were awarded Level 4 and they notched a season’s best 88.42 points while skating to selections from Astor Piazzolla.

“We chose a more classical music to show the passion of the Tango without anything artificial,” Cizeron said, according to the ISU.

Russia’s Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov also performed to selections from Piazzolla, earning Level 4s on all of their elements. They scored 83.94 points, good enough for second place.

“We haven’t had such a result in a while in Russian ice dance,” Katsalapov said, noting that the most recent Russian medal in ice dance at a World Championship came in 2013. “I hope that tomorrow everything goes well and we will show a high-quality skating.”

Their Russian teammates joined them inside the top three, as Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin scored a season’s best 83.10 points to vault them into third place. All of the elements in their rhythm dance were also called Level 4.

Neither of the Russian teams has ever won a world medal before. The last time no Americans were on an ice dance podium at a World Championships was 2014, when the event also took place in Saitama, Japan.

Full results are here.

Two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue scored a season’s best 83.09, a razor-thin 0.01 points out of third place, in their clean rhythm dance also set to selections from Piazzolla. All of their elements were called Level 4 and they are currently in fourth place ahead of Friday night’s free dance.

“We were pleased today to give out a strong performance,” Hubbell said through U.S. Figure Skating. “We got all Level 4s, which was our goal. It’s a great start to our competition.”

Hubbell and Donohue were fourth at the PyeongChang Olympics but weeks later captured silver medals at the 2018 World Championships.

February’s Four Continents gold medalists, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, skated a clean rhythm dance to the recognizable “Assassin’s Tango” from the 2005 movie “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.” Each of their elements was called a Level 4 and their rhythm dance scored a season’s best 82.32 points.

Chock and Bates own World Championship silver (2015) and bronze (2016) medals and are looking for a return to the podium in Saitama. They are currently in sixth place.

“Coming into the World Championships, we wanted to reset,” Chock said. “We’ve made some changes to our programs so we had a lot to focus on. The programs feel refreshed and new and different, so for us we were excited to come here and show them off. It felt great to perform for the audience today.”

A look at how tight the standings are behind the French team after the rhythm dance:

  1. Papadakis/Cizeron: 88.42
  2. Sinitsina/Katsalapov: -4.48
  3. Stepanova/Bukin: -5.32
  4. Hubbell/Donohue: -5.33
  5. Weaver/Poje: -5.58
  6. Chock/ Bates: -6.10

The third U.S. team in the field, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, made their second World Championships appearance with a 75.90-point rhythm dance. Hawayek’s twizzles were awarded a Level 3 and Baker’s a Level 4, and their first pattern and their midline step sequence got a Level 3. The rest of their program was called a Level 4 and they are in ninth place.

“It was a really good performance for us,” Hawayek said. “This program is a special program to us. It was a new style and we really enjoyed the challenge of the new style. I think we were happy with putting out another solid performance today.”

The free dance begins on Friday at 11:30 p.m. ET.

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short | Alina Zagitova wins first world title

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships 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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World Championships ice dance preview: France’s Papadakis, Cizeron vying for title No. 4

2018 World Championships gold and silver medalists/ AP
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The way the ice dance field breaks down at this weekend’s World Championships in Saitama, Japan, largely depends on how the teams that train in Montreal skate.

Two-time world silver medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon (2006, 2007) have built a venerable dance school in Montreal. Teams, like two-time Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, have flocked there since France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron shot from 13th to first in a one-year span under their tutelage.

Papadakis and Cizeron have had an abbreviated season due to Cizeron’s concussion, but they are just as strong as they were last season. They missed their first Grand Prix assignment, meaning they couldn’t qualify for the Grand Prix Final, but still won Grand Prix France. Then in January, they won their fifth consecutive European title.

The couple, the 2018 Olympic silver medalists, are the heavy favorites in Japan, where they are contending for their fourth World title (2015, 2016, 2018). This season, the biggest change for the team is that they’re training with more of their direct competition than ever, including three American teams.

“Each one is quite friendly and has a lot of respect for the others. Each one works his or her best. Each one is fun to share the ice with,” Papadakis said in an interview with NBCsports.com/figure-skating.

As in the men’s discipline — where Nathan Chen, Jason Brown, and Vincent Zhou are first, second and fourth after Thursday’s short program — the American teams are looking particularly strong. Here’s a closer look at the U.S. teams, plus the other podium threats:

Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, U.S.A.

Credentials: 2018 World silver medalists, 2018 Grand Prix Final champions, two-time U.S. champions, fourth in PyeongChang

Hubbell and Donohue won gold at the prestigious Grand Prix Final in December, the first U.S. dance team to do so since 2013. Then, they won their second consecutive U.S. national title in January. But at their next competition, Four Continents, they stumbled. They received only base credit on their opening stationary lift, which cost them around five points – that’s major in ice dance, especially in a field where podiums are often decided by just tenths or hundredths. The mistake dropped them from first all the way down to fourth place.

Worth noting: They skate their free dance to “Romeo & Juliet” and tell the story of the star-crossed lovers. Before the free dance at nationals, they watched the movie together, which helped them connect to the emotions behind the iconic performances in the film.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, U.S.A.

Credentials: Two-time world medalists (silver, 2015; bronze, 2016), 2015 U.S. champions, 2019 Four Continents champions

Chock and Bates were sidelined by her ankle surgery and were away from competition for nearly 10 months following the 2018 World Championships. In the meantime, they moved to Montreal to train and reignite their passion for skating. They’ve rededicated themselves to the next Olympics – which would be the couple’s third together – and it shows in their skating. They were second at U.S. nationals in January and were lights-out at Four Continents to take the title.

Worth noting: They competed three times in five weeks in January and February, but utilized the lead-up time before worlds to recuperate. Their plan is still to peak in Japan, they told NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, U.S.A.

Credentials: 2019 U.S. bronze medalists, fifth at Four Continents, 10th at 2018 World Championships

Hawayek and Baker’s move to Montreal has brought marked improvement this season. They won their first Grand Prix gold medal in Japan, qualified for their first Grand Prix Final, notched their highest-ever finish at U.S. nationals and were named to the Four Continents and World Championship teams outright. Previously, they had competed at those events only after being called up from the alternate spot. They told NBCSports.com/figure-skating that put them in a tough spot.

“It’s really exciting for us to make that leap into this realm of skaters,” Hawayek said in that interview. “We’re really grateful that we train with the other two [teams] that are on the [U.S.] podium with us every day.”

Worth noting: Their move to Montreal came with its own setbacks, as Baker suffered a concussion early in the season. However, they did not miss any major competition and he has since said he’s back to normal and taking care of himself.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Canada

Credentials: Three-time world medalists (silver, 2014; bronze, 2015, 2018), two-time Grand Prix Final gold medalists, three-time Canadian national champions, two-time Four Continents gold medalists

The skating world hasn’t seen much of Weaver and Poje in competition this season. They won the Grand Prix Final twice (2015, 2016) but skipped the circuit this season to perform in the Thank You, Canada tour with their fellow 2018 Olympians.

They returned to competitive ice in January for their third Canadian national title and in February, earned silver medals at Four Continents. The 2018 world bronze medalists could land on the podium again in Japan.

Worth noting: Their free dance music this season was also used by their friend Denis Ten, who was killed in his home city of Almaty, Kazakhstan in July.

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver told NBCSports.com/figure-skating at their lone fall competition in September.

Honorable mention: Teams who qualified for the Grand Prix Final will also be in the mix: Russia’s Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (silver medalists), Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri (bronze), plus fourth-place finishers Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin from Russia.

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Alina Zagitova leads after ladies’ short program | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships 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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Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron on training with three American ice dance teams

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Three-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron started a trend when they moved to their Montreal training camp. Now, they train with three American teams – which includes their top competitors.

After winning their fifth consecutive European Championship title (no other team had ever won five in a row), they sat with NBCSports.com/figure-skating to discuss how they see ice dance changing since they’ve come to dominate the field, what it takes in order to do so for so long, and how to keep things fresh.

The world championships are in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24. Papadakis and Cizeron are chasing their fourth World title.

You’re now training with three American teams – Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. How is it going?

Cizeron: The atmosphere in the Gadbois rink has not changed. It’s still quite a sportive one!

Papadakis: They were already good friends before coming to Montreal. You can feel that Madi and Zach, and Madison and Evan had a good relationship together. It’s not like they would compete against one another and were acquainted through competition. They had a sheer appreciation of one another. Each one is quite friendly and has a lot of respect for the others. Each one works his or her best. Each one is fun to share the ice with.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were the first ones to join you: how did you see them improve?

Cizeron: Madi and Zach are relying on speed more than on glide. Their approach has been unique.

Papadakis: They were coming from quite different backgrounds than ours. They have more of an American approach, they went to hip-hop and opened several other fields. They really exploded at the highest level with their short dance to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” They had such an incredible connection to this program. They may have discovered at that point the huge capacity they had to be connected, which in fact very few teams have. They’ve developed from then on.

MORE: One-on-one with Hubbell and Donohue before Worlds

How do you train together? Do you feel like everyone is following your lead as the pioneers in Montreal? 

Papadakis: We have the ice from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each one of us has one’s share of it for three to four hours. That allows us to practice together – or not.

Cizeron: We don’t really feel that we would be leaders there. Each one has one’s own style, and that’s what matters most. You keep your eyes concentrated onto your own work, really. Daily routine is always the same: you have some runs, you have some exercises to practice, you have some private lessons. There’s no surprise. You just support each other. It’s just like what we do at competition: you are concentrated on your own work. If you think of what the others are doing, then you’re doing your job!

On the bigger scale, do you see the landscape of ice dance change under your leadership?

Papadakis: We don’t try to make the sport change. But we certainly don’t want to follow paths that have been already opened by others.

Cizeron: It’s the same question as who, from the chicken or the egg, which came first? Do we win because we’re doing what we do, or do the others follow the doors we’ve opened because we win? It may be something we’ll realize later, when we have more perspective. The real challenge for us is to renew ourselves, and never be contempt with what we do, especially as we’re opening a second chapter in our career with this new quadrennial.

The good thing with ice dance is that you learn your technique forever. Once you get your steps, you keep them for life.

Papadakis: It’s not like with ladies, for instance: you don’t lose your choctaws at puberty!

MORE: Hawayek, Baker on what Montreal means to them

What does it take then to stay at the top in this sport?

Cizeron: Of course, you need to preserve oneself, both physically and mentally. Have a superlative team. Then keep your curiosity and will to learn. Just as in any field when you want to perform.

Papadakis: As success comes, you need to give up things. Then you may fear to let go things that were key to your success. Will it work the same way, if you leave them away? The new things you take on board have not proven themselves. But don’t be frightened. We could certainly make up a list of everything that works and get points, and derive a formula for success. Maybe some do that. We can’t. We’re not into marketing.

Cizeron: In fact, durability is also a fight with people’s opinions. We’ve always changed costumes many times during the course of a season. People told us: “No, don’t it’s so good!” And then once we had changed, they would say: “Oh yes, it’s better!” You need to believe that you can always do better. You need to believe in your instincts for that. That’s a major point: listen to your instinct and never doubt it. You’re growing and encompassing different phases, just like in your life. Some things become more important. Our coaches listen a lot, and then they have a filter and a funnel to decide what to discuss with us.

Papadakis: We’re lucky to have several faces in front of us. You’re better off with five people making a decision than with just one.

Cizeron: Then we need to devise programs that will please us and will please the audience. We like to bring a density, a depth to every program. We love movement, we love dancing extremely, both of us. We don’t do things because they are trendy. When we skated to Mozart concerto, in 2015, it was not that trendy. But people loved it. We created a kind of a fashion, without even knowing it.

Papadakis: Still we need to pay attention: we may create a fashion, but we shouldn’t stay in it. You can’t create a fashion and be stuck with it.

Fashion designers do take the trends they perceive in society, and they create a fashion to push them forward. Aren’t you saying that you are aiming at becoming like the fashion designers of ice dance?

Cizeron: Ice dance may not be an art, but it’s an artistic field. Fashion needs to be renewed all the time, just like for clothes. In order to succeed, you need to be fully yourself, but not stick to the same forever. If you’re too much of yourself, people will say “they don’t change.” We aim at creating timeless pieces. We would like to create fashions, not trends. A dress designed by Christian Lacroix may become out of fashion, but still be remarkable on anyone. Those who follow fashions are easily forgotten. Those who create them are remembered forever. We don’t really invent anything. We listen and observe, we go to theater and ballet and to the movies. The whole process is not a conscious one, but that’s how it works.

MORE: Chock, Bates planning on peaking at world championships

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!