Golden Skate

Papadakis and Cizeron defend World title

Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillame Cizeron

Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillame Cizeron of France perform their Free Dance at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships.

In an epic night of ice dancing, France’s Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillame Cizeron defended their title with a world-record score at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. USA’s Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates took silver and bronze, respectively.

Papadakis and Cizeron dazzled the audience with their routine to “Rain in Your Black Eyes” and “Build a Home,” showcasing their strength, lyricism and passion. While other teams strove for height in their lifts, the French performed magnificent low lifts that equally impressed.

“We didn’t expect these high marks at all,” Papadakis said. “We were really able to give our very best tonight. It took us a moment at the end of our program to realize what we have achieved, and I still can’t believe it. I just want to catch this moment and enjoy it.”

The two-time European champions scored 118.17, outpacing Meryl Davis and Charlie White’s record-winning 116.63 from the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games. They finished the competition with 194.46.

While the team’s short dance underwent significant revamp since the European Championships, the free dance remained largely untouched with the exception of a straight line lift which was changed to attain a level 4.

“It was maybe more of a pressure to come here in Boston,” said Cizeron. “I know like maybe the crowds was maybe more into the American couples, but I have to admit that tonight the crowd was really supportive with us.”

“They have changed the direction of ice dance towards something more emotional and beautiful,” said coach Romain Haguenauer, comparing his team to the legendary Davis and White.

Skating last of the final flight, the Shibutanis skated an electrifying rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You” to claim the silver medal. With program elements exceptionally laid out to highlight the music that evoked enormous roars from the audience, the team earned a freedance score of 113.73 and final score of 188.43.

“It felt like there was no other way to end the season,” said Alex Shibutani. “The program has been very special to us. Being obviously in the United States, being in Boston, the stage was set for us to have a very special moment. One that I think many teams don’t ever get to experience throughout their career. Before we had even started, we knew that the audience was right there with us.”

The finish marked their first return to the world championship podium since 2011.

“We’ve been able to really weather out this journey,” said Maia Shibutani about the long-awaited return that tested their fortitude as other teams repeatedly eclipsed them.

“Alex and I are incredibly proud of this season,” she added. “We’ve been working so hard and to have two moments like this in front of a home audience, you really can’t ask for anything more. They were supporting us every single step out there, and I knew I could really trust Alex and that was the perfect way for us to end our season. Those were our best performances.”

Chock and Bates’ romantic and spirited Rachmaninov routine included deep edges and tender choreography highlighted by distance-covering twizzles. They earned 113.31 in the free dance to finish the competition with a total score of 185.77.

“We believed it would elevate our game and we would grow into the music,” Bates said about the warhorse music choice. “It took longer then anticipated, but now I think this season will be marked as the season with the most growth that we’ve had in our five years together. A lot of it has to do with (coach) Igor (Shpilband) and with the vision that he sees for us.”

2014 World Champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte mesmerized with their opening effortless twizzles and straight line lift to commence their “La Dolce Vita” free dance. Sixth after the short dance and skating in the second last flight, the Italians earned a whopping personal best score of 112.07 to apply pressure on the final flight. Their total score in the event was 182.72.

For Cappellini, the Italian-themed free dance’s evolution over the season was personally satisfying.

“I think that there are some moments when sometimes people make fun of us because of how we speak or how we use our hands; like some moments when you feel a little embarrassed by all the stereotypes,” she said. “But once you embrace your culture, who you are, the typical fire of the Italian and Latin culture in general, it’s really when you find your own strength.”

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated their “Bitter Earth” free dance powerfully, but Poje’s slight wavering in the twizzles resulted in a level two for the sequence — a costly error given the night’s high scoring performances. Highlights included a dramatic straight line lift with Weaver in a split position against Poje.

The world championship finish marked a second season with a disappointing finish after glorious international wins throughout the Grand Prix series.

“It’s a little discouraging to have two seasons in a row now with such success in the beginning and not as much as we would like in the end, but this this is a personal best score so that’s great,” Weaver said. “We would have killed for 110 in any other regard.”

USA’s Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue performed exquisite twizzles during their lyrical and haunting “Adagio” free dance to energize the home country audience. The team earned 108.37 in the free dance to finish the competition in sixth place with a combined score of 176.81.

The finish was an impressive improvement from their 10th place ranking in 2015 for the three-time U.S. bronze medalists. They attribute much of the success to their new Montreal coaching team: Marie France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer. The duo’s short and free dances, which illustrate their intimacy, have captivated audiences.

“I think it was pretty emotional the last few days for us and we were both looking forward to getting out there and doing them the last time, but sad to let them go,” said Hubbell.

“There are no regrets, which makes stepping away from them easier,” Donohue added.

Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland of Great Britain were seventh (173.17) while Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier finished eighth. Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov finished ninth (168.97).