Madison Chock and Evan Bates have become so dominant in ice dance that not even a sudden illness could stop them Saturday.
Two days after they began developing flu-like symptoms, the longtime figure skating partners took to the ice and laid down a free dance at the U.S. championships that was good enough for gold. Chock and Bates scored 215.92 points to easily outdistance Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko for their third straight title and fifth overall.
“I think Evan and I have always had a lot of determination and willpower,” Chock said, “and we thought, ‘Would we regret not going for it and just trying our best today?’ And when the answer to that question was, ‘Yes,’ we were like, ‘OK, let’s go make it happen. Let's step out there and give it all we've got.' We did that today and I'm really proud.”
Carreira and Ponomarenko actually outscored the reigning world champions in the free skate to finish with 210.04 points, while Emily Bratti and Ian Somerville leaped over Caroline Green and Michael Parsons to take the bronze medal.
“We knew that we were capable of being on the podium and it was a really big goal for us,” Bratti said. “And especially after the rhythm dance, we got a lot of motivation and confidence that we were capable of it. But it was definitely a surprise.”
In the pairs event, Ellie Kam and Danny O'Shea edged Alisa Efimova and Misha Mitrofanov for the gold medal.
Kam and O'Shea struggled on both of their throw elements and finished with 187.86 points, while Efimova and Mitrofanov jumped from fifth after their short program to second with the highest-scoring free skate and wound up with 186.91 points.
Valentina Plazas and Maximiliano Fernandez earned the bronze medal inside Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Emily Chan and Spencer Howe led the pairs competition after the short program, but they withdrew ahead of the free skate so they could preserve their health. Howe is still recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.
The U.S. championships conclude Sunday, when Ilia Malinin tries to wrap up his second straight title with his free skate.
Chock and Bates began feeling ill Thursday night, about the time they were taking a big lead in the rhythm dance. The next morning, Chock said she could not get out of bed and wondered whether they could even compete Saturday.
“If the competition had been yesterday,” she said, “I don't think we would have made it to the rink. Happy there was a gap day to pull myself together a bit. Just pushed the fluids, got a good night's sleep, said a few prayers and here we are.”
Even though their free skate, set to music from Pink Floyd's “Dark Side of the Moon,” fell short of their own lofty standards, it was good enough to move them within one of Meryl Davis and Charlie White for the most U.S. titles with six.
Whether they attempt to match the record remains to be seen. The 31-year-old Chock and 34-year-old Bates are getting married this summer, and they have said they are deciding on a yearly basis whether they want to continue competing.
One determining factor could be the fact the 2026 Milano-Cortina Olympics are less than two years away. Chock and Bates have been on three U.S. teams and barely missed the podium at the 2022 Games with a fourth-place finish.
They do have a medal from Beijing in the team event, though, even if they still don't know the color. The medals have been withheld as anti-doping authorities investigated a positive result returned by Kamila Valieva, a member of the winning team of Russian skaters, and while the Court of Arbitration for Sport heard a subsequent appeal in a case that has dragged on.
The World Anti-Doping Agency is seeking a four-year ban for Valieva, which would disqualify her from the Olympic competition and presumably make the Americans the team champions. The CAS decision is expected soon, perhaps as early as this week.
“You know, we're the only two athletes from the Beijing team that are still competing. Every single one of the rest of us has moved on,” Bates said. “I think two years is too long that it's taken for this decision to be made, and we may never know why it has taken this long.
"We're just looking forward to getting some closure after a long waiting period.”
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