by Daphne Backman | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The ice dance event at the Olympics got underway with 24 teams taking the ice with several goals in mind – to qualify for the free dance or to fight for a medal or both!

In contrast to the Team Event where only one team received a level 3 on the Rhumba, a total of 11 teams received level 4 on their Rhumba, including the top three teams.

Canada’s Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir set a new short dance record of 83.67 with their performance to “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, “Hotel California” by The Eagles and “Oye Como Va” by Santana. The highlight of their performance was their midline step sequence, which received a perfect score of 11.90. Virtue & Moir were the only team to receive level 4 grades on all of their technical elements.

“Better than setting the record was the feeling we had after our performance and we’ve always been that way, able to gauge our skate based on how we feel when the music ends,” Virtue said. “We’re able to look at each other and take a moment and feel that pride for how we executed.”

“That’s something we are really proud of,” Moir added. “That is every athlete’s goal here and to come out and do the best you can. And to do it on this stage, we’re really, really proud of that. We know our work isn’t over. It’s a long event. The biggest chunk is tomorrow and we have to stay on our game”

Right from the start of their performance, Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France dealt with a costume issue when the top clasp of Papadakis costume came unfastened. Because stopping the performance to re-attach it would result in a deduction, the team pushed through the program.

“It was difficult,” Papadakis said. “It’s the first time that something like that happened. I tried to stay focused and finish without anything (else happening).”

“It was a great performance considering the costume issue,” Cizeron added. “That is not something you get ready for in your mind when you start the program. It is hard to stay focused.”

Papadakis & Cizeron skated to “Shape of You” and “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran and their score of 81.93 was not far off the score they set at the 2017 Grand Prix Final. All of their elements were rated level 4, except for the pattern steps, which received level 3. Though behind the Canadians on the technical mark, they had a slight .08 edge in program components.

“We are not extremely disappointed, but we could have done better without that problem,” Cizeron said. “Two points can be caught up. If we can do our best, we have a chance to win. We have to stay focused and look forward.”

With just 1.74 separating the top two teams, the free dance will be a nail-biter. Papadakis & Cizeron own the free dance record and have beaten Virtue & Moir in their only head-to-head meeting this season. However, Virtue & Moir have fine-tuned and finessed both the music and choreography of their free dance to be more effective and have an added bonus of skating the program on Olympic ice during the team event.

Two American teams are in third and fourth positions with just .02 separating Madison Hubbell & Zach Donohue in third and Maia & Alex Shibutani in fourth.

Hubbell & Donohue made their Olympic debut with a subtle latin short dance performance to “Le Serpent” by Guem at Zaka, “Cuando Calienta El Sol” by Talya Ferro and “Sambando” by Los Ritmos Calientas. They achieved a new personal best of 77.75, which was over a point higher than their previous high score. The team received all level 4, with just their twizzles receiving level 3.

“This is a competition we were preparing for many years,” Hubbell said. “We are thankful for our coaching staff who could prepare us as best as possible, but there is really no teaching for how it is going to be at the Olympics.”

The top three teams all train under coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer and all three of the teams have credited the culture of the program in Gadbois for helping them become both physically and mentally prepared for competition.

Hubbell & Donohue held the edge in the technical marks, but the Shibutanis had a higher program components score.

Maia & Alex Shibutani, who were part of Team USA’s bronze medal effort in the Team Event, were pleased with their short dance performance to a medley of music by Perez Prado.

“That was the Olympic performance we were looking for,” Maia said. “After the team event we feel so much more confident. Going out there, we just wanted to enjoy it, and it was even better than we skated last week.”

“I haven’t had a chance to analyze everything, but right now I feel really proud of how we did,” Alex added. “We’re riding high after the team event and the short dance performance. Since the team event we’ve made a lot of improvement. We feel really good and we’re enjoying this right now, but we’ll turn our attention to the free dance.””

Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte were the last team to take the ice and attacked their performance from start to finish. Skating to “Kaboom” by Ursula 1000 and “Skip to the Bip” by Club des Belugas, the team finished fifth and received level 4 grades on all of their elements, except for the Pattern Steps, which received level 3.

“We will be in the last group in the Olympics tomorrow, we want to fight for a medal and we want to be among the best,” Lanotte said. “We stayed in it for a reason, to show that we are that couple. I think today we showed it again how we performed and we hope to do well in the free dance.”

Cappellini & Lanotte are one of four teams that are competing at their third Olympics.

“The first time it was getting to know the experience of the Olympics, which can be quite overwhelming, Cappellini said. It’s a very big thing. In the second Olympics, we may have been overly focused and overly worried about it, but this time we wanted to give the best of ourselves.

“We are trying to live this Olympic Games as adults,” Lanotte added. “The last Olympic Games in Sochi we were very worried about it. We couldn’t really live it fully so big, it was out of our reach, but this time we are taking a mature approach.”

Cappellini & Lanotte’s new personal best score of 76.57 edged out OAR’s Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitry Soloviev by 1.10 to secure the final spot in the final group for the free dance.

Bobrova & Soloviev’s score of 75.47 for their latin dance performance was less than a point off of their personal best.

“We are very happy with our performance, the coaches were happy and we got a higher score than in the team event,” Bobrova said. “In the team event we skated more freely, I was more nervous today. We skated really well in the team event and wanted to skate even better today. We had to stay focused not to make any mistake.”

“Everything will be decided tomorrow. Today, everyone had to skate clean. The main battle is to come tomorrow (in the free dance),” Soloviev added. “We showed what we are capable of. Tomorrow we can do better. We have an amazing free dance; it comes out of our soul. Tomorrow, it will be very interesting.”

Madison Chock & Evan Bates of the United States slid into seventh place after a performance to “Aguanile”, “Que Lio” and “Vivir Mi Vida” by Marc Anthony that scored 75.45. Their twizzles, pattern steps, Rhumba and lift received level 4 grading with the curve lift being a particular highlight that featured Chock low to the ground resting on Bates’ feet. The team had a hiccup on their curve lift during the last 30 seconds of the warm-up that aggravated an injury Chock has been dealing with all season.

“It is an osteochondral lesion; it is a fancy word for a piece of loose bone fragment in the joint, where the top bone meets the foot bone in the ankle,” Chock said. “I have been managing it well all season and that just give it a little shock.”

At the end of the short dance, only the top 20 advance to the free dance. Alexandra Nazarova & Maxim Nikitin of Ukraine, Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu of China, Cortney Mansourova & Michal Ceska of Czech Republic and Israel’s Adel Tankova & Ronald Zilberberg will not skate in the free dance event.