ice dance

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.

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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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Chock, Bates charge to second U.S. title; Hubbell, Donohue charge the wrong way

Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue
AP
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Evan Bates, who had just won his second U.S. ice dance title with partner Madison Chock, put it best.

“Ice dance is a strange sport in some ways,” he said.

Chock and Bates have had their share of unusual mishaps in their near 10-year career, but on Saturday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, everything was smooth sailing.

The couple’s exotic “Egyptian Snake Dance” free dance went off without a hitch, gaining the highest possible levels for nearly all of its elements and impressing judges with its intricacy, synchronization and striking lifts. It earned 134.23 points, giving the Montreal-based team the win with 221.86.

“It was (our coach Marie-France Dubreuil’s) idea for me to be a snake, and Evan a traveler who finds me,” Chock said of the routine. “It was just such a fun process, cool new characters for us to dive into, and we’ve really been enjoying it. It shows when we skate.”

Greensboro has been lucky for the skaters, who teamed up in 2011; they won their first U.S. title here in 2015. The five-year title gap is the longest in history for U.S. ice dance champions.

“It feels longer than five years,” Chock said with a breezy laugh. “It feels so much has changed, and in us as people as well (as dancers). We’re in a very good place, we could not be happier with the way the season has been going.”

If Chock’s humor was lighthearted, Madison Hubbell’s can only be described grim.

Hubbell and her partner, Zach Donohue, trailed their long-time rivals and Montreal training partners by about 1.3 points following Friday’s rhythm dance. A stellar outing of their Star is Born free dance might have won a third consecutive U.S. title; instead, it became a living nightmare.

“Out of the first element, the dance spin, we got turned around somehow and came out the wrong direction,” Hubbell said. “The next four elements, which are pretty valuable elements, all were facing the wrong direction.”

(Video available here for NBC Sports Gold subscribers; Hubbell and Donohue skate at the 1:06:50 mark.)

Not until their fifth element, a step sequence, did the skaters get back on track. In between, there was a world of hurt, likely unnoticed by many members of the audience but readily apparent to the judges, who had seen the free dance in  practice.

“Our twizzle sequence, it’s a high-scoring element, is supposed to charge right at the judges, and today it charged away from them,” Hubbell said. “In the rotational life, there’s a large leg flare that looks very cool going the opposite direction, and today I just opened my crotch right in front of the judges.”

The score was far from disastrous; Hubbell and Donohue’s 130.88 points for their “wrong-way” free dance gave them 217.19 overall. But it was a missed opportunity to show judges, and fans, the improvements they had made to A Star Is Born since the Grand Prix Final in December.

“It was probably one of the hardest performances, and not the most enjoyable,” Hubbell said. “It was a really thoughtful focus on the elements, and somehow putting one portion of the brain aside to fix things as best we could.”

The silver medal was Hubbell and Donohue’s first. They also won bronze medals in 2012, and 2015-17.

Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose rhythm dance to Saturday Night Fever stole the show on Friday, felt their Flamenco-style free dance didn’t pack the same punch.

“Yesterday was such a high for us, in terms of (audience) reaction and performance, that tonight didn’t have the same euphoria when we finished,” Hawayek said. “Both Jean-Luc and I see the potential for it being much higher than what we were able to put out today.”

Despite the disappointment, the third team in the Montreal troika earned 118.57 points and won a second consecutive bronze medal with 201.16.

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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.

Chock and Bates step out to slim lead over longtime rivals Hubbell and Donohue

Chock and Bates
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When this reporter asked Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, about the near decade-long rivalry that has shaped their ice dance careers, Hubbell laughed out loud.

“My rivalry with Evan Bates has been going on much longer than 10 years,” she said. “Don’t count the years, because we’re getting old.”

Hubbell, 28, was right, of course. Both she and the 31-year-old Bates hail from southeast Michigan, where they squared off in competitions throughout their childhoods. In 2005, the year Bates won the U.S. novice title with former partner Emily Samuelson, Hubbell and older brother Keiffer placed fifth.

Fast forward 15 years and they’re still at it. The teams have squared off at the U.S. Championships eight times; Chock and Bates hold a 5-3 edge in placements, but Hubbell and Donohue have won the last two U.S. titles. Along the way, each couple has won two world medals.

Since last season, they have trained together at Gadbois Centre in Montreal, sharing coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer.

“(The two teams) are pretty much on the ice almost every day, at least one session at the same time,” Lauzon said, adding that he doesn’t plan it that way. “I rarely pay attention to whether they are training together or not. It more has to so with fitting with their own schedule, and which coach they have to see that day.”

“I think (training together) has really brought all of us up to the next level of skating,” Chock, 27, said. “We will continue to progress together for the rest of our careers, just because we respect each other so much. We look to each other in training for motivation, and it’s been really beneficial.”

Would either team be as successful, without the other couple to push them every step of the way?

“That’s a hard question to answer,” Lauzon said. “It’s a benefit when teams are able to train together and push each other. It definitely helps to keep yourself motivated and on the ice. Everyone in our centre so far has been able to cope pretty well with it, grow from the experience.”

On Friday, the teams squared off for the ninth time at a U.S. Figure Skating Championships, taking the ice in Greensboro, North Carolina for the rhythm dance event. Both skated upbeat, electric programs to musical theatre standards; this time, Chock and Bates prevailed, 87.63 points to 86.31.

“I think it’s as free and spontaneous as we’ve been in this program all season,” Bates said of the team’s routine to Cole Porter’s “It’s Too Darn Hot.”

It was not without error. Chock made a noticeable slip on a twizzle (fast turn) in a step sequence, but caught herself and quickly got back on track.

“I was trying to make sure my edge was deep enough,” she said. “I  just tipped over, and I was like, ‘at least this is an outside edge, it could be worse, keep going,’” Chock said.

The error didn’t drop the level (base value) of the element, but it probably cost a few points from the judges.

“It hurt a bit,” Lauzon said. “It hurt the GOEs (Grades of Execution), which I think were around +2. If they didn’t have it, they probably would have got some +4’s.”

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Hubbell and Donohue’s program to a Marilyn Monroe/Joe DiMaggio inspired medley showed off their star power and flowing edges.

“Zach and I went in with the intention of attacking the program,” Hubbell said. “We’ve been working a lot on speed and the dynamic quality of our skating. There were some technical mistakes today, but we’re glad to work those kinks out here. … Sometimes it’s good to get a wake-up call before the end of the year.”

Besides a few very minor slips on steps, the defending champions lost ground when the technical panel rated their straight-line lift Level 3, a shade lower than it usually merits.

“That was a surprise,” Lauzon said. “That lift has been in the program a while. It got the Level 4 everywhere else, so I was surprised to see that.”

The top two teams’ training partners in Montreal, Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, stole the show with their fast and fabulous rhythm dance to selections from Saturday Night Fever. The program earned 82.59 points and the only standing ovation of the event.

“We are focusing on not just the technical, but we want to have a lot of fun,” Baker said. “We want the audience to have just as much fun with us, have a three-minute break in their life and maybe enjoy the memories they have had with these songs, step away from their lives and have fun.”

“Even at seven in the morning, when it’s negative 10 degrees out in Montreal, there’s something about the music, the program, the genre,” Hawayek said. “Our mantra for the year with this program is ‘spark joy,’ and it most definitely sparks joy.”

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, who train in Novi, Michigan with Igor Shpilband’s group, sit fourth with 78.02 points. The first-year pairing of Caroline Green and Michael Parsons earned 77.42 points for fifth place.

Barring a large upset, after the free dance on Saturday, Hubbell and Donohue will win their third consecutive U.S. title, or Chock and Bates will reclaim the crown they won in 2015. And another chapter will be written.

“You know, it’s not that we’re skating against each other,” Hubbell said. “It’s just that we want to win, and they want to win, and there can only be one winner.”

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MORE: Gracie Gold in tears at figure skating nationals after emotional comeback

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.