Dispatches from Beijing: Confident Papadakis and Cizeron set new rhythm dance standard

By Lynn Rutherford | Photos by Melanie Heaney

At Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium on Saturday, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France “waacked” their way to 90.03 points, a new rhythm dance scoring record.

The four-time world champions from France sit first heading into Monday’s free dance. Reigning world champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsapalov of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) sit second with 88.85, while reigning U.S. world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are third, some three points behind the leaders.

For the 2021/2022 season, ice dance teams had to select urban street dance rhythms, or at least two different rhythms from hip-hop, jazz, reggae, blues, funk, swing, krump, popping or disco for this segment of competition.

The French chose the music of John Legend and introduced a new dance style, “waacking” to their repertoire, a street dance similar to hip-hop.

“We started working on it last year,” Papadakis told reporters in the mixed zone. “We knew the theme (of the rhythm dance) is urban dance. We tried different kinds of dances and we started doing some waacking.

“We worked with a specialist and fell in love with it. We did the choreography and started working on the program. It really is a program we love so much.”

I caught up with Papadakis and Cizeron as they strolled through the mixed zone, the day before the rhythm dance. And “strolled” is the perfect word – the odds-on gold medal favorites looked like they were back home in their training city of Montreal, enjoying a day in Mount Royal Park, rather than preparing for the biggest competition of their lives.

“We arrived on the third (of February), so we’ve been here a while already, like pretty much everybody else,” Cizeron said. “It’s been good. One day at a time. Practices are good, we’re finally close to the actual competition, which we’re pretty excited about – of course, nervous, but excited and grateful to be here.”

Here’s a bit more on their state of mind:

How are you keeping up your stamina here, all this time before you compete?

Gabriella: Actually, it’s the first time, because four years ago, we didn’t come that early. We came only a couple of days before. This was our first coming this long before the Games. It’s a different experience but it helps to know that everybody else almost is doing the same thing and its not that different from other couples. We were ready before we left, and that was just like rehearsals, getting used to the ice and the venue and the time zone, and everything else.

We saw Vincent Zhou withdraw from the men’s event, due to a positive Covid test. How do you deal with that possibility?

Guillaume: It was dreadful to think of not being able to compete here, because of Covid. I feel like that would be terrible for any athlete here. We didn’t want to take any chance, we wanted to do everything to be able to compete. Once we got here, we felt a little bit more relaxed, and each day that passes we get a little bit more reassured. It is very few chances we would get it here, but we are still being pretty careful. We are doing whatever we can to be able to compete. It’s not something we think about too much.

What was your preparation in Montreal like, the last month or so?

Gabriella: Well, we are always doing kind of the same thing, we are working on details, trying to improve our choreographies and the elements, and all the technical aspect, and at the same time building up the cardio and the physical aptitude to do the run-throughs. It doesn’t change too much (before the Olympics) because we’ve been training with all the top teams for almost eight years now. We are really careful with each other, not getting too close and keeping the masks on, which is new for us.

In PyeongChang, you were co-favorites with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Here, pretty much everyone expects you to win.

Guillaume: We feel the pressure to perform, as we always do. I think that’s the biggest pressure — to do your programs, get your elements and perform as best you can. And for the rest, it’s a tough competition with very good skaters, and when it comes down to it, we never know what is going to happen. We know we can win, and we know we have to perform our best in order to do so, so we’re really just focused on doing the best we can.

Gabriella: We just take things as they are, and (think) everything is perfect as it is, and we can win as things are.