Evan Bates

Madison Chock and Evan Bates
Courtesy of Chock and Bates

Chock and Bates together on the ice, at home together during pandemic

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates work together in the fullest and most intertwined sense, two athletes who have fused into a couple as both competitors and entertainers during a nine-year partnership.

They also live together, as partners in the more common sense of such a relationship.

For the past three years, that has made the 2020 U.S. and Four Continents ice dance champions a 24/7 couple, a situation few people have experienced in their lives.

Until the last month, that is. Now tens of millions of couples around the globe have suddenly found themselves spending almost every minute of the day and night in each other’s presence because of the need to slow the spread of coronavirus by social distancing from all but those they normally live with.

So, much to their bemusement, Chock and Bates have suddenly been in demand as relationship counselors.

“You’re cooped up with your significant other, and for people who usually see each other just a few hours a day, it’s like, ‘What is happening?’” Bates said in a FaceTime interview this week. “We’re a pretty young couple, but older people are asking us how we get along spending so much time together.

“It’s pretty funny that people are turning to ice dancers for relationship advice. We’ve heard that ice dance is really like a marriage. I guess that must be true since we’ve got married couples asking for advice.”

Since they last skated together on “real” ice March 13 (more on that later), two days after the cancellation of the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships, Chock, 27, and Bates, 31, have been pretty much confined to their two-bedroom Montreal apartment with their toy poodles, Henry and Stella. The dogs have never had it so good: long, looong, looooong walks at least twice a day and constant human companionship.

“They are living their best lives right now,” Chock said, laughing.

As badly as they miss skating, Chock and Bates are managing to avoid the pitfalls that could accompany the annoying absence of the activity they love while in the constant presence of the person they love. The two-time world medalists find themselves less bothered by little irritants than they have been sometimes after a long day at the rink.

“When we’re skating and training hard, we could come home tired and hungry, and little things would get to us,” Chock said.

“We’re lucky because we started first as friends and partners and began dating many years later,” Bates added. “The foundation of our partnership and relationship is all about friendship and fun. Yes, we’re spending all this time together, but we’ve been laughing and having a good time.”

It has been a medal-winning partnership since their second season together, 2012-13. They have made the podium at eight straight U.S. Championships (two titles), all six of their Four Continents Championships appearances (two titles), three Grand Prix Finals and 12 straight other Grand Prix events dating to 2013. They have competed in the last two Olympics, finishing eighth and ninth (Bates was in a third, 2010, with a different partner).

After backsliding on the world stage the previous three seasons, this was shaping up as their best season ever. They finished second at the Grand Prix Final, had the largest winning margin at nationals since eventual Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White in 2014, and their eye-catching, Egyptian snake dance-themed free dance got better and more compelling with every competition.

That made the world meet cancellation even more disappointing to Chock and Bates, especially since it was to take place in their adopted home of Montreal. They have trained with many of the world’s other top ice dancers at the Ice Academy of Montreal since the summer of 2018.

MORE: Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 figure skating season

And that is why they got a needed lift from how fast the Ice Academy staff created a virtual training program for its athletes, beginning barely a week after its rink was closed. The program includes three nutrition seminars a week, teaching the skaters how to alter their diets because they are not as physically active.

“It really helped us mentally to have a structure in place as soon as they did,” Chock said. “When the worlds were cancelled, there was a lot of sadness and uncertainty. This allowed us to channel our emotions and not let all the hard training we had done just stop and go away.”

Tuesday, the sessions were an hour with a physical trainer, an hour of ballet and an hour of hip hop. Chock and Bates are lucky not to have neighbors below who might be disturbed by all the thumping and to have a room in the apartment they can dedicate to the workouts and another room they use for relaxation. Under normal circumstances, they have usually tried to leave their skating lives at the rink.

“It’s nice to have a separation between the two spaces,” Chock said.

They do body weight work such as squats, lunges, jumps, and pushups. They do yoga. They work with resistance bands. They have no free weights (“We lift the dogs,” Chock joked).

“It’s surprisingly very challenging,” Chock said of the five-days-per-week workouts.

“It’s pretty much everything we can do without getting on the ice,” Bates said.

They did get on “ice,” March 23. It was a tiny frozen patch in the courtyard of their apartment building, and it melted soon after they put on skates to record a short Instagram video.

This weekend, they will be involved in two skating-related projects.

Saturday, they will take part in “Open Ice,” streaming at 2 p.m. (EDT). It is a show co-produced by Canadian ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver that will include many of the greatest skaters in history as a fundraiser for the United Nations’ Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. (For full information, click here.)

Sunday from 1:30-2 p.m., Chock and Bates will host an Instagram live on U.S. Figure Skating’s Instagram account as a lead-in to an NBC broadcast (2-3 p.m. EDT) of “U.S. Figure Skating: A Season’s Best.”

“The pandemic… I don’t want to say it has made skating less important to us, but it has put into perspective how fortunate we are and how serious other matters in the world are,” Bates said.

“When we have an ice rink and are skating full-out, we get so tunnel-visioned about what we are working on. This makes you take more of a macro lens view of the world and where we fall into it with our skating and what it can give to the world – entertainment, hope, joy.”

“Moving forward,” Chock said, picking up Bates’ theme, “we hope to bring something positive after something that has been just so horribly negative for so many people, us included, but not to the degree as it has been so many others.”

The programs they do next season – if there is a next season – will depend in part on when they can get back on the ice. The International Skating Union has decided to let ice dancers keep the same rhythm dance theme and rhythm as last season. Chock and Bates still would like to show their snake dance free at a Worlds, but they also are thinking about other possibilities. So far, though, they have not been trying out new choreography in they simulated, sock-footed dancing they are doing on their apartment floors.

“It would take two months of being back on ice to get our bodies ready,” Chock said. “New programs would need much more time.”

Neither feels they will have an advantage over dance teams who are not living together in this isolation period.

“I don’t think that when we do compete again, whether or not we were together during the quarantine will affect much,” Bates said. “Couples who were apart might be so happy to see each other and skate together again, they will be more inspired.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Mariah Bell is sheltering in place in the family RV

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 figure skating season

Nathan Chen and Jason Brown
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Before the cancellation of the world figure skating championships due to coronavirus, audiences were anticipating a head-to-head battle between two-time and reigning world champion Nathan Chen against two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu

Three Russian teenagers — and training partners — were likely to finish in some order atop the women’s podium. The hot spot of ice dance today, Montreal, was to play host to the championships, with four-time French world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France going for title number five. 

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China, just off a sixth Four Continents crown, were favorites to become three-time world champions, but young Russians Aleksandra Boikovi and Dmitrii Kozlovskii looked strong to challenge them. And what about the world championships debut of U.S. pair Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who arguably captured the top moment of the national championships in January? 

With or without the world championships, the 2019-20 season has come to a close. Here, the NBC Sports figure skating contributors reflect on the standout moments of the season. 

MORE: Nathan Chen, skating coaches react to cancellation of world figure skating championships

Men’s 

For the second season in a row, Chen successfully completed a double: full-time studies at Yale University, combined with a near-full slate of competitions. He remains undefeated since the 2018 Olympics, with wins at Skate America, Internationaux de France, the Grand Prix Final and the U.S. Championships. His only seeming concession to scheduling was skipping the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, held in Seoul, Korea in early February.

“Competition after competition keeps me motivated, knowing I have to achieve a certain goal at each competition,” Chen said early this season. “That’s what drives me through practices.”

The shining moment of his 2019/2020 campaign came in December at the Grand Prix Final in Torino, Italy, where he landed five quadruple jumps — two in combination with triple jumps — in a spectacular free skate that earned 224.92 points, a world record. His total for the event, 335.30, is also a record, and he defeated two-time Olympic champion Hanyu by nearly 44 points. 

Artistically, the highlight of the Chen’s free skate to Elton John’s “Rocketman” is a 30-second hip-hop sequence at the end of the routine. 

“I’m thrilled with the score,” Chen said after his “Rocketman” free skate in Torino. “I’m thrilled with this program.”

Hampered early in the season by a concussion suffered in an August car accident, Jason Brown hit his high note at Four Continents, where he skated two career-best programs to win silver behind Hanyu. His free skate, choreographed by David Wilson to music from Schindler’s List, was breathtaking in Seoul.

“My background, obviously, is Jewish, and the story is so touching,” Brown said. “I grew up learning about the Holocaust and about Oskar Schindler and the stories. I always wanted to skate to it, but it has to be when I’m at the level, maturity-wise, that I’m really ready to skate to it.”

Balancing skating with full-time studies isn’t doable when there are no available ice surfaces within an easy drive. Vincent Zhou couldn’t find the ice time he needed at Brown University. He withdrew from the Grand Prix Series and all but stopped skating after a few weeks, returning to the sport in full force around Christmas, under new coaches Lori Nichol and Lee Barkell in Toronto. He rallied to perform two clean programs and place fourth at nationals — his lowest finish since his 2016 senior debut — but made the Worlds team as the reigning Worlds bronze medalist.

MORE: Nathan Chen, from flu-ridden on the floor, fights for 4th U.S. title

Women’s 

Russia’s “three A’s” — Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova — combined to win every major international senior event on the 2019-20 calendar. Shcherbakova and Trusova both have quads, but Kostornaia, the Grand Prix Final and European champion, outshone her compatriots by combining elegance and musicality with a consistent triple Axel.

Alysa Liu of the United States, 14, made her long-awaited junior international debut, adding a quadruple Lutz to her programs and becoming the first woman to land a triple Axel and a quad in the same routine, doing it at the Lake Placid JGP in August. She won her second U.S. crown in January, and then capped her season with a bronze medal behind two Russians at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships early last month. 

“I don’t feel [outside] pressure to be the best in the world,” Liu told Phil Hersh of NBCSports.com/figure-skating in January. “I just take it step by step and work hard for myself.”

U.S. silver medalist Mariah Bell had a fine season, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix circuit and creating one of the signature moments of the U.S. Championships with a stirring, near-perfect free skate to “Hallelujah.”

“Looking back, this was by far the best season of my career, so I’m very proud,” Bell said on a teleconference the day worlds were cancelled. “I’m really looking forward to building on that next season.”

U.S. bronze medalist Bradie Tennell can also celebrate her best campaign. The 2018 U.S. champion qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the first time, and broke more new ground in Seoul last month where two career-high programs earned her a bronze medal at Four Continents, her first ISU Championships medal.

“I feel like I was able to relax and skate the way that I do every day,” Tennell said at a press conference in Seoul. “That’s kind of been my goal not only this year but also last year. I feel like I never quite achieved it last year. But this year throughout each competition I’ve been getting closer and closer, and at this competition I was able to really achieve that.”

Following a long road back to the sport that involved treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder, Gracie Gold earned a standing ovation at the U.S. Championships. She ultimately finished 12th after an emotional free skate to “She Used to be Mine,” but told reporters she would continue training for next season.

“I think I’ve earned that,” Gold said.

MORE: Gold recounts literally and figuratively running out of gas

Ice dance 

2019-20 was truly Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ season. The couple, who moved to Montreal to train under Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon last season, created a mesmerizing “Egyptian Snake Dance” program, won a silver medal at the Grand Prix Final and defeated longtime rivals Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue to take their second U.S. title, some five years after they first won the crown. Two weeks later, they won a second straight Four Continents title, defeating Hubbell and Donohue and Canadian champions Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.

With Papadakis and Cizeron showing some cracks in their armor — the French duo placed second at the European Championships, their first loss since the 2018 Olympics — a world title seemed to be within Chock and Bates’ grasp. 

“This has been the best season of our careers, no doubt about that, and a big part of that is our program [“Egyptian Snake Dance”] and the way we performed it,” Bates said. “Also just the improvements we made to our skating, generally, since moving to Montreal have started to be recognized and rewarded.”

The French, who train alongside Chock and Bates, Hubbell and Donohue and many other teams in Montreal, may be glad to bid the 2019-20 season farewell. Their programs, especially their free dance to a spoken word poem, were not nearly as praised as their past efforts. After Europeans, a stressed Papadakis spoke to reporters about her mental fatigue, and the couple took a two-week break from training. Now, they have a long off-season to recoup and plan new programs.

Hubbell and Donohue, too, had a few ups-and-downs. The skaters and their coaches, Lauzon, Dubreuil and Romain Haguenauer, re-worked music edits and sections of choreography in their Star is Born free dance, hoping for a peak performance in Montreal and a third consecutive world medal. Now, the two-time U.S. champions will have a long off-season to create new programs.

The season ended on a truly somber note, with the loss of Chris Reed, a three-time Olympic ice dancer for Japan who died of a sudden cardiac event at age 30 in March. Fellow skaters paid tribute over social media for the Michigan-born Reed, who won 10 Japanese titles over his career. 

Pairs 

Chris Knieirm, winner of an Olympic team bronze medal and three U.S. Championships with his wife, Alexa, announced his retirement shortly after the couple withdrew following the short program at Four Continents. 

The Knierims, the only U.S. pair to execute a quadruple twist in competition, capped their career in January, at the U.S. Championship in Greensboro. Their final complete competition was highlighted by a clean, emotional performance to the romantic ballad “At Last,” which gave them a seven-point lead over Calalang and Johnson, and, ultimately, their third U.S. title

“It was a dream that was attainable to skate the way we did today, but it always seems something gets in the way,” Scimeca-Knierim said at the time. “I’ve just been wanting for this moment to happen, because it’s been a little bit of time for Chris and I to have a skate that makes you feel, like, alive. I’m just so happy.”

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier also announced a split, and Scimeca-Knierim and Frazier plan to for a new pair and compete next season

The shakeup will add to the likely shuffling of U.S. pair rankings next season. U.S. silver medalists Calalang and Johnson won the free skate at the U.S. Championships, and two weeks later placed a solid fourth at Four Continents. Lacking an international resume, they were controversially left off the world team in favor of 2019 U.S. champs Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who placed fourth in Greensboro. They had placed ninth at the 2019 Worlds, earning a second quota spot for the U.S. in the discipline. 

These two pairs, along with 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea, and perhaps, a few improving teams, will compete for supremacy. This, partnered with the new Scimeca-Knierim/Frazier partnership should lead to something to watch for in the upcoming season.

Other notable aspects of the season: 

By the middle of September, it already was clear the season would feature a jump revolution in women’s skating. Yet no one could have foreseen the speed at which it occurred and how far it went.

With statistics courtesy of skatingscores.com, this illustrates what happened:

Until 2018, just one junior or senior woman, Miki Ando of Japan, had been credited with landing a quadruple jump in a significant national or international competition (2002 Junior Grand Prix Final). From the 2017-18 season until the start of this season, there were 21 quad attempts by three skaters (Shcherbakova, Trusova, Yelizabet Tursynbaeva) in significant international competitions, with 13 getting full rotational credit and eight judged clean (positive or neutral grade of execution).

This season, seven women were listed for 42 quad attempts in significant international competitions, with four — Shcherbakova, Trusova, Kamila Valieva and Alysa Liu — getting credit for at least one clean quad and 25 of the 42 judged clean.

Trusova landed three clean quads in a single free skate and did three different types cleanly during the season — Lutz, flip and toe loop (plus a fourth, the Salchow, at the Japan Open, which Skating Scores does not list among its “major,” or significant, events because of its limited field). Shcherbakova did two clean quad Lutzes in a single free skate.

There was a similar great leap forward on triple Axels.

Until this season, only eight women had been credited with landing one in a significant international competition. Four of those eight had done it in the pre-IJS and pre-replay era.

This season, the triple Axel club got three new members: Liu*, Kostornaia and Young You. Two previous members, Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva and Rika Kihira, did more. The five had an aggregate 23 judged clean.

And all that was without the senior worlds.

(*Liu was credited with landing a triple Axel at the 2018 Asian Open, when she competed in the advance novice division.)

A bit of history

2020 also marked the 10-year anniversary of two notable Olympic moments from Vancouver 2010: Yuna Kim won South Korea’s first Olympic figure skating gold and Evan Lysacek won the first U.S. men’s Olympic gold since Brian Boitano in 1988.

MORE: In figure skating, a radical proposal to reshape the sport

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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Olympic figure skaters from 1980 plan reunion in Lake Placid

Scott Hamilton
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Members of figure skating’s “Dream Team” plan to return to the site of the 1980 Olympics for a reunion and celebration in Lake Placid, New York next Tuesday.

Scott Hamilton, the flag bearer at the 1980 Opening Ceremony, will be joined by silver medalist Linda Fratianne, bronze medalist Charles Tickner, Tai Babilonia, David Santee, Sandy Lenz Jackson, Caitlin Carruthers Conrad, Sheryl Franks and Michael Botticelli, Lisa-Marie Allen and Stacey Smith and John Summers.

Paul Wylie, a 1992 Olympic silver medalist, will moderate a press conference featuring the skaters.

“Usually everything is about the hockey team, but now this is about figure skating,” Wylie told NBC Sports. “It will be a really cool moment.”

The community is invited to take to the ice on Tuesday for a “Frozen 5K” skate-a-thon and signature fundraiser of the Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation. Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist and cancer survivor, will also lace up his skates.

Lake Placid anniversary

Reigning U.S. ice dance champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, 2019 U.S. pairs’ champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc and 2011 U.S. champion Ryan Bradley will perform in a gala honoring the 1980 Olympic team.

On Thursday, the Olympic Museum will host the kickoff event with two new exhibits: “Totally 80 – Exploring the Look of the Games” and “Foretelling the Future – The National Weather Service at the Lake Placid Olympic Winter Games.”

Other events include a 1980s trivia night, athlete forums, meet-and-greet opportunities with 1994 Olympic speed skating champion Dan Jansen and a screening of Disney’s “Miracle.”

Lake Placid also hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1932, but it is the 1980 iteration that lives prominently in the minds of Americans.

The U.S. men’s hockey team’s defeat of the Russians in the “Miracle on Ice” and Eric Heiden’s five speed skating gold medals are among the memorable highlights.

MORE: 10 takeaways from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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!