Golden Skate

Chock and Bates defend title at Four Continents

Embed from Getty Images

2020 Four Continents

Rhythm Dance

USA’s Madison Chock and Evan Bates rose from second to defend their title in this event at Seoul, South Korea, at the Wakiki Mokdong Ice Rink on Friday afternoon. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada also moved up one spot to capture the silver, while USA’s Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue pocketed the bronze.

Chock and Bates gave a mesmerizing free dance (127.42 ) with their creative “Egyptian Snake Dance” routine, racking up positive grades of execution (GOE) in each element along the way. The lifts, twizzles, spin, and one-foot steps were all graded a level 4, however, the team took a one-point deduction for a fluke fall by Chock. Nevertheless, the defending champions defended their title with a new personal best total score of 213.18.

“I scared myself,” said Chock of the slip. “Maybe I stepped on something. It was out of the blue and I was trying to catch myself! It was a bit of a fight today, in part, but overall, we enjoyed ourselves. It’s a pleasure for us to perform every time.”

“It was a testament on how well-trained we are, because we picked up really quickly from this fall that took us by surprise,” said Bates. “Within 20 or 30 seconds, we were right back on the music, we were back in the performance. But the jolt kind of took some energy away from us. I think just coming off our national championships, we were just fighting out there to put together the best performance we could, and we’re just so grateful that we were able to do enough.”

“For us, the music was a huge inspiration,” she explained of their free dance this season. “As soon as we heard it, we knew it was special, and we were very intrigued and inspired by it. I would be a snake, and Evan would be a traveling snake charmer, and he would find me, and that is how our story would begin. It’s a very unique program, it’s something we haven’t done before. It’s fun to keep exploring our characters throughout the season, and it’s fun to see how our program has evolved from start to finish. I just love it. It’s my favorite program I have ever done.”

Gilles and Poirier were very fluid and showed good interpretation in their program to”Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell. All lifts, the spin, and twizzles were graded a level 4 with many positive GOEs, and the one-foot and diagonal steps were a level 3. The Canadian champions scored 126.26 for a second-place finish in the free dance and 210.18 overall.

“I think we’re both really proud of ourselves,” said Gilles. “Having nationals only two weeks ago, coming here, I think all the athletes are a bit tired. We didn’t try to overdo it and we didn’t hold back either. I think we are very happy with ourselves, we got some great levels today. It was a little harder energy-wise because nationals were around the corner, but we pushed ourselves and didn’t let that deflate us. We really felt that the energy was good and we did everything we could do today.”

The 2019-20 Grand Prix finalists have been very consistent this season and Poirier feels that it’s proving they have been approaching their training and competing the right way.

“We’ve given ourselves the task of being on the podium at Worlds,” he said. “We feel like we’re getting closer and closer. There are still some more points to squeeze out and some more couples to beat and we have a long training block now before Worlds.”

“We have decided to do programs ‘for the people,'” Gilles explained of this season’s free dance. “Since the World Championships are in Canada, we wanted to skate to an artist who came from Canada, and we both love Joni Mitchell so much. It’s a story of love and hope and relationships, but sometimes relationships don’t always work out. We feel like the audience can get behind it and relate to it in so many ways. It’s an absolute pleasure to perform, and we are ready to make a moment.”

Hubbell and Donohue gave a powerful performance to music from Star is Born, however, the twizzles were a bit off with she earning a level 3 and he a 2. The 2019 World bronze medalists otherwise earned a level for their lifts and spin, and showed very strong level 3 footwork. All elements received high GOEs, and the team finished third in the free dance (122.77) and overall (208.72).

“Our performance was not the absolute best,” noted Hubbell. “Our free dance has been a rocky one for us this season. We haven’t really felt like we’ve given our best this season, but it’s getting closer and we feel like we’re improving.”

“I think we know what we have to work on,” added Donohue. “We spent a lot of time building up our strength, now it’s time to add the pedal to the metal and do the work.”

“This free dance has been a little bit of a challenge for us this season,” said Hubbell. “It wasn’t a great performance, but we have to look at what we did well, and we are improving. We have to go back to the drawing board a little bit, and we need to show the strengths we have as a team in this vehicle. It’s a passion project for us, we love it, and we are looking forward to showing it in Montreal with all of our team with us, but today was not the day.”

“When Zach and I sit down to choose music, with our coaches, we always are interested in doing something a little bit different,” Hubbell explained of the process. “We have a very hard-to-describe relationship, but one that is very emotional. We have a lot of power and we skate with a certain sort of abandon. It serves us well sometimes, but it gets us in trouble sometimes. It shows a lot of our strengths, but it is something that challenges us to continue to what we hope will be the best year of our career in 2022.”

“Skating to something that is quite powerful in the beginning with the rock vibe, and even though it seems slow in the second half, it picks up intensity and emotion,” she continued of their free dance music. “We want to show the program for what we see it. It is challenging to surrender to the moment and be in 100 percent in control of every element. That’s the magic we sometimes struggle to find. For me, Zach is the strongest, most-powerful man on the ice. It’s hard to skate with that when he goes full out. Sometimes it lends itself to making errors that cost us points. That’s what we will work on for the next month, to not let the programs get away from us from the technical side.”

China’s Shiyue Wang and Xinyu Liu earned a new personal best of 119.30 for fourth place in the free dance after their dramatic performance to selections from Black Swan. The 2019 CS Finlandia Trophy silver medalists showed good level 4 lifts, twizzles, and spin, however he received a level 2 on the one-foot steps, while she a level 3. The diagonal steps were also a level 3 and the team maintained fourth overall—their highest placement in their seventh appearance at this event—with 196.75 points.

“We are were very happy about our performance,” said Wang. “We finally were able to show off everything we are able to do in our training.”

“We got the best result a Chinese ice dance pair has ever gotten at the Four Continents,” noted Liu. “Our goal is definitely to achieve more and we want to keep improving.”

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker rose to sixth overall after placing fifth (116.56) with their dramatic and captivating routine to “Symphony No. 5” and “Caprice No. 24,” which featured three level 4 lifts, twizzles, and spin.

“Today is a new day, it’s as easy as that,” said Hawayek on recovering from the fall in the Rhythm Dance. “Yesterday was not what we wanted, but the nice thing about waking up everyday, is that it’s the past and you get a fresh start every time you get up and get out of bed. We really had that intention with our energy today. And from the moment we woke up we made sure we were with each other every step of the way today to put out a solid, focused commanding performance.”

The 2018 Four Continents Champions feel there is much more growth to be had, especially with the new set of tools and knowledge they have been getting from their coaches Patrice Lauzon, Marie-France Dubreuil, and Romain Haguenauer in Montreal.

“If we have these building blocks that we’re developing, we’re so excited to see how we can allow those to fly and to allow our skating to grow,” said Hawayek.

“For future seasons, I’m honestly so excited due to the fact of the amount of growth Kaitlin and I have made this season,” added Baker. “Not just technically and skating skill-wise, but just on a personal level as well. It’s just by far more than we can explain really. Just learning to compete with a whole different intention, it’s something that the IAM (Ice Academy of Montreal) are really instilling on us, to be real adult competitors so we can just do what we do.”

Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha earned all new personal bests in their debut at this event, placing sixth (115.68) in the free dance with their “Bohemian Rhapsody” routine, and fifth overall (192.11). Their routine included level 4 lifts, twizzles, and spin and the one-foot and midline steps were graded a level 3.

“It was very weird,” said Lajoie of her first experience at this event. “For the short dance, I didn’t feel a lot of stress, but for the free dance I was very stressed. I think we learned a lot about how to deal with the stress, the crowd and the camera. In juniors, of course, we don’t have that.”

“We just wanted to do very well,” added Lagha. “There is something beyond the result, the scores. We wanted to skate very well for us. There was not one time this season yet when we skated without any major mistakes. Even at nationals there were some stumbles, but now we finally did two good performances.”

The 2019 World Junior Champions knew it would be a big step transitioning from junior to the senior level.

“At the beginning, especially for me, it was bigger than expected and it was a very hard beginning,” admitted Lajoie. “The more we skated in senior, the more we learned how to deal with it.”

Moving forward, the Canadian silver medalist would like to improve technically, specifically their speed, transitions, and lines.

“It is supposed to be expected that we do well,” said Lagha on their success in their first senior year. ” Our school is mainly known for the success in seniors. There are some junior couples, but the philosophy of working is ‘senior’, we’re training to be senior champions, not junior champions. We were already prepared.”

Teammates Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus placed seventh overall (174.41).

Despite some stumbles in the free dance, the 2018 Four Continents silver medalists pointed out that they have been focusing on their basic skating skills, mainly on the footwork, speed, and glide.

“It was definitely not what we trained for,” said Firus of their free dance. “Not what we wanted to do. We were more than ready for this competition, so (it was) very unfortunate.”

“We were just hoping to be able to go to Worlds in Montreal this year,” admitted Soucisse. “We really want to make the Olympic team in two years, so that’s our long term goal for now.”