Column: Evan Bates and Madison Chock put on otherworldly show to help U.S. take silver
An astronaut and an alien danced eloquently about the power of love and Karen Chen discovered the power of redemption, two seemingly unrelated concepts that somehow came together Monday to fuel a silver-medal finish for the U.S. in the Olympic figure skating team event.
“Astronaut” Evan Bates teamed with “alien” Madison Chock of Redondo Beach to perform an exquisite free dance to music by Daft Punk and defeat the reigning world champions, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of the Russian Olympic Committee.
Chock and Bates pretty much clinched the silver medal by performing the highest-scored free dance and earning a personal-best 129.07 points. But Chen, who was upset with herself after falling on a familiar jump in her short program Sunday, added a nice flourish in the last phase of the event with a free skate program that had a few minor flaws but was otherwise entrancing.
The Russian Olympic Committee won the three-day team event with 74 points, to 65 for the U.S. and 63 for Japan. The U.S. had won the bronze medal in the two previous team events, at Sochi in 2014 and at Pyeongchang in 2018, and Bates was proud to have helped the Beijing squad improve on its predecessors’ results.
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“I think a silver medal is something to be incredibly proud of,” said Bates, a four-time Olympian who became the oldest U.S. Olympic medalist in any skating discipline at age 32. “It just feels great to contribute in a meaningful way.”
The only downside of the day for the Americans was that Vincent Zhou, who competed in the men’s free skate Sunday and is scheduled to compete in the men’s singles event starting Tuesday, tested positive for the coronavirus in a routine daily test performed Sunday. According to U.S. Figure Skating, Zhou was undergoing additional tests to confirm his status. If those results are negative, he will be allowed to skate Tuesday.
Bates acknowledged the concept of the couple’s astronaut-alien free dance was “outside the box.” Chock initially feared it might have been too out there for judges to appreciate.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t know what to expect. We knew we were taking a risk. But we were like, hey, high risk is high reward,” she said. “And we were really enveloped in the concept of our program, and we decided if we committed to it 100% we could show the world how we felt and hopefully that would resonate with them.”
Strange as it sounds — and ice dance has had its share of bizarre themes — it worked very well. It might even expand the boundaries for future ice dance programs.
“It’s ambitious. It’s fast-paced. It’s got a lot of demanding lifts and things like that,” Bates said. “It took a long time for us to train it to a place where we could deliver it with abandonment and emotion, and it happened today finally.”
Chen’s free skate to “Butterfly Lovers Concerto” was ranked fourth. Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee fell on one of her three quadruple jumps but still earned a top score of 178.92 to her dramatic “Bolero” program. Kaori Sakamoto of Japan and Madeline Schizas of Canada also got higher scores than Chen, but for Chen the day was about fighting back after falling on her triple loop jump in the short program.
She didn’t bend under duress Monday, and she was justifiably proud of herself.
“I definitely felt a little more pressure because I felt like I needed to redeem myself from [Sunday],” she said. “I knew I could have landed that loop. To go out there and do that is just such an incredible feeling.”
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who train at Great Park Ice in Irvine, couldn’t recapture the brilliance of their short program performance when they competed in the pairs free skate. Knierim singled the second jump of a planned triple toe loop-double toe loop combination, had a problem landing her triple salchow jump and wobbled on landing a throw, leading to a fifth-ranked score of 128.97.
Only seconds into her first giant slalom run, Mikaela Shiffrin slips and misses a gate, ending her bid to recapture gold in the event.
Under the team event scoring system of 10 points for a top-ranked performance, nine for second and so on, they earned six points. Reigning world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov of the Russian Olympic Committee got the best score, 145.20, even though he fell on a lift and both ended up on the ice. They were surprised but not injured.
Frazier rated the pair’s experience as good.
“Not our best today in the free. Lost some points,” he said. “The short, we were very proud of. That’s how we skate. We know we can do the long similar. We do it a lot in our trainings. Just got to tap into it a little more. But overall, a lot of positive good things and experience we took away from this weekend of competing.”
Knierim also is a fan of the team event.
“We love it. We will always raise our hand to partake in it,” she said.
This time, they grasped silver in their hands.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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