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Madison Chock, Evan Bates skated through sickness in possible last U.S. dance

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There is no more haunting question in life than, “What if?”

The desire not to let it go unanswered played a significant part in why ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates competed in the free dance Saturday afternoon at the Prevagen U.S. Championships.

Both had been sick for at least a day. Chock said it had felt like a 24-hour flu. How Bates felt was evident by the pallor of his face.

They already have enough baubles to fill several trophy cases. Yet they were determined to try for another in a discipline with spinning that could make a healthy person dizzy and lifts that require strength and sure-footedness on a slippery surface.

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Chock did not think she could have skated if the final had been Friday, when they skipped practice.

By Saturday, she was asking herself if they would regret not giving it a shot. When the answer was “yes,” when they and their coaches felt it would not be dangerous to try, out on the ice they went.

And another question about regret had also slipped into Chock’s thinking.

What if this 13th national championship were the last for a couple of thirtysomethings (31 and 34) with a June wedding date? They now decide on a season-by-season basis whether to continue competing and have not yet committed to going for the 2026 Olympics.

“When we were contemplating whether or not we should skate, it went through my mind, `What if this is it? What if at the end of the year we feel complete, but we didn't get to skate the whole U.S. championship?’”” Chock said. “Would we regret that decision?

“I think that would have been a yes. So we thought if this is our last (national) championship, then we would go out knowing that we skated and we did our best and we fought through it.”

After all, they had built a sparkling career through determination and persistence, reaching the top of the world podium last season, their 12th as a competitive team. They know something about pushing through.

They managed to do it again, winning a fifth U.S. title (and 12th straight podium place) despite finishing second in the free dance, when an obviously struggling Bates lost his balance and stumbled on two spin moves known as twizzles.

The penalty for those mistakes was enough to put Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko first in the free, but still second overall.

The nearly nine-point gap Chock and Bates built with a U.S. Championships record score in the rhythm dance left them with a comfortable winning margin, 215.92 to 210.04 for Carreira and Ponomarenko.

Somewhat surprisingly, Chock and Bates still intend to get on a plane Sunday for the long haul to defend their title at the Four Continents Championship in Shanghai, China, where the dance event begins Friday. That day-long trip likely will be harder on them than the four-minute free dance was.

No ifs about it.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.