by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss

Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron placed 13th at the 2014 World Championships and, soon after, moved with coach Romain Haguenauer to Montréal to work with Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon. In 2015 and 2016, they won back-to-back world titles as they trained for gold at the 2018 Olympic Games.

In 2010, Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir won Olympic gold on home ice in Vancouver. Four years later in Sochi, it was silver. They stopped competing and toured the world, entertaining audiences while honing their performance skills at every international stop. When they ended their sabbatical in 2016, they moved to the Gadbois Center in Montréal and trained alongside the French team. They also set their eyes on the prize for gold in Pyeongchang.

Tuesday at the Gangneung Ice Arena, the showdown between the Canadians and French was the main act at the free skate. Eighteen other teams competed, but the hype and drama was centered on the top two.

Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir skated last and their game faces reflected they knew what they had to do to beat Papadakis & Cizeron.

Their fast-paced and edgy performance to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack differed from the classical Beethoven program of Papadakis & Cizeron. The lifts were more like gymnastic leaps, but it was what the music demanded and what Virtue & Moir gave back.

The reigning world champions, just as their training mates had earlier, earned level 4 for all of their elements. The program received 122.40 points for the free dance, for a total of 206.07. They were both personal best scores, and the total is the new world record.

In the kiss and cry, it was tense until the gold medal scores were posted. Then it was euphoria for the Canadians, but a backstage shot showed the disappointment on the faces of the French.

“I am thrilled with this competition,” Virtue said.  “That performance was really special and truly memorable. The gold medal is the cherry on the cake.””

“We skated with each other in mind the whole way, and we skated with our hearts. It’s extremely fulfilling,” Moir added.

Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron skated third in the final group. As they glided across the ice, the only sounds in the arena were the somber piano chords of the classic “Moonlight Sonata.” The mesmerizing movement of the French team captivated the audience and carried them on their emotional ride. At the end, the skaters were drained.

Their curved lift, stationary lift, and combination spin earned perfect scores. The remaining elements had mostly +3 for GOE marks. There were 24 perfect 10.00’s in the program component marks.

In the kiss and cry, pandemonium erupted when scores were announced. Papadakis & Cizeron had broken their own free dance world record in their Olympic debut. But since they skated before the Canadians, they had to wait for the final results.

Unfortunately, even after winning the free dance and setting a scoring record, their gold medal dreams were shattered, and they finished in second place. Their facial expressions said it all.

“We’ve been focusing on this event for the past few years,” Papadakis said.  “I think we have a lot of time to reflect on this and see how it is going to inspire us.”

“There are a lot of emotions right now. We really did the best we could out there. It was almost a perfect performance,” Cizeron added.

In spite of the pre-Olympic media hype that had made Americans Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani bronze medal favorites, they stood in fourth place after the short dance behind fellow countrymen Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue.

The sibling team danced to Coldplay’s “Paradise,” the third part of the trilogy they had begun in 2016. All of their elements except the rotational lift earned level 4. Their signature twizzles tied with the French for the highest-marked twizzles in the events (8.40). The program earned 114.86 points and their total was 192.59.

In the end, the Shibitani siblings switched places with their American teammates and finished third with the bronze medal. They also skated in both rounds of the Team Event, where they won bronze.

“It feels like gold,” Alex said. “It’s unbelievable. I am so proud of the way we fought through this week and the season. We are so emotional.”

Americans Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue were third after the short dance. Their smoldering blues program had won the U.S. Championships in January. A medal was within their grasp, but they had to skate clean. Unfortunately, a few small errors cost them valuable points.

“It just wasn’t our best skate today,” Hubbell said. “We felt really focused during the performance, just a little slip here and there, and we lost some really valuable points. In such a tough competition, there’s really no room for error.”

The Montréal-based team had level 4 for all elements besides the twizzles and diagonal step sequence, which were level 3. They scored 109.94 in the segment and 187.69 total. They were fourth in their Olympic debut.

Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev, skating as Olympic Athletes from Russia, gave a very emotional performance that told the story of a blind girl who is actually a fantasy of her partner.

“In this situation for us, it is more valuable to please the audience, when they write to you that they understand our programs and feel inspired by our performances,” Bobrova explained.

The elements were all level 4 except the circular step sequence, which was level 3. The segment score was 111.45 and their total was 186.92. The team began the evening in sixth place, but moved up to fifth after a fourth-place free dance. Bobrova & Soloviev, who have been partners for 18 years, knelt at center ice hugging after the dance ended.

“I told Dima (Soloviev) that I am very proud that he is my partner, and that I love him very much and thank you,” Bobrova said.

Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte did what they do best—they told a story. They mixed comedy and drama into their interpretation of the Life is Beautiful film. The Italians began the night in fifth place, but wanted more in their final Olympic competition. However, they lost points with an extended lift and lower GOEs on level 4 elements.

“It was obviously a big, big emotion because as of yesterday we were one point off the podium,” Cappellini said.  “Even though we were in fifth place, we wanted to put in a bid for a medal. We’re really proud of what we were able to do out there.”

Cappellini & Lanotte finished in sixth place with 184.91 total points, less than their personal best from the 2017 European Championships.

Skating in the third group, Americans Madison Chock & Evan Bates fell performing what they “Imagined” to be an outside chance for a medal. The mishap turned the fantasy into a nightmare.

“I knew it was over,” Chock said.  “I knew there was no shot. After working so hard all this season and then just losing it at a crucial moment, it was really, really heartbreaking.”

“Those things can happen. Obviously, we wish we would have skated better. We were capable of doing so much more, but these things just happen sometimes,” Bates added.

Unfortunately, the audience didn’t get to experience the full meaning of the effect that their choice of music had on Chock & Bates and the rest of the world. It’s best described in their own words:  

“I think our main goal here is to tell our story,” Bates said. “The message of our free dance is one of peace and hope. The message that we felt is resounding throughout these Games—seeing North and South Korea marching under a unified flag, having “Imagine play at the Opening Ceremony. It is so telling what the world is desiring to hear right now.”