Ice Network

French dance duo's meteoric rise culminates in gold

Papadakis, Cizeron pull up from fourth after short; Chock, Bates bag silver
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Capping off a magical season that took many by surprise, France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron rallied from fourth place after the short dance to take the world title with a competition total of 184.28. The European champions clinched gold with a first-place free dance that netted them 112.34 points. -Getty Images

The phenomenal rise of French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron reached its crest at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships on Friday: Just 13th in the world last season, they won gold in Shanghai.

U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates took the silver, and Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, second in the world last season, won bronze.

Last summer, Papadakis and Cizeron's coach, Romain Haguenauer, relocated from Lyon, France, to Montreal to join the school of his former students, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrick Lauzon. Papadakis and Cizeron followed a week later. Haguenauer, who remains the team's primary coach, suggested Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 23" for the team's free dance, and Dubreuil choreographed the program last June.

Friday, six of their seven elements gained Level 4, with the diagonal step sequence earning Level 3. The judges awarded GOEs (Grades of Execution) of +3 to seven of their eight elements, and they won the free dance with 112.34 points, some 5.47 points above Chock and Bates' score. The champions finished with a total of 184.28 to win the title by almost three points.

Papadakis and Cizeron's components averaged 9.5, with four perfect 10s: one for performance, two for choreography and one for interpretation. 

"I think our maturity comes from the fact that we have skated together for 11 years now," Cizeron said. "We really try now to put something of ourselves into the programs, in the interpretation.

"Our goal at the beginning of the season was the top 10 at worlds," he continued. "So we were very surprised at each competition about the growing number of points we got. After the short dance (in which they finished fourth), we just had nothing to lose. We were very determined and wanted to attack." 

Skating to George Gershwin's An American in Paris, Chock and Bates showed good speed and excellent elements. Their rotational lift had nine GOEs of +3, and there were other elements with a few +3s. Their components averaged 9.1 points. Several little hops and lifts at the end of their program demonstrated their joy of dancing and went far to boost their components.

However, the U.S. champions lost ground to the French when three of their elements -- the twizzles, circular steps and diagonal steps -- rated Level 3 instead of Level 4.

"It was a great performance," Chock said. "I had a bobble on my twizzle, but after that I was like, 'Nope, I want this too badly and I'm going to fight my tail off to get it.'

"This is unchartered territory for us, and it's harder than it looks," Bates said. "To manage the stress and go out and deliver a great performance, I don't even know what to say. We're thrilled with our silver medal here and hope to find ourselves in this position many times in the future. Today, we're really proud of ourselves."

Weaver and Poje, winners of the Grand Prix Final three months ago and the favorites coming into this competition, placed third in the free dance and third overall with 179.42 points. All of the elements in their Four Seasons program were very good, but they skated a bit slower than the Americans. Their components averaged around 9.1.

"This sport is a marathon, not a sprint," Weaver said. "This is only the first year of the next quadrennial, so this momentum will not last. It just makes us hungrier to work even harder."

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, the world champions last season, finished fourth with 177.50 points.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani moved up one spot from the short to place fifth. Combined with Chock and Bates' silver medal, the skaters earned the U.S. three spots at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston.

The siblings' free dance was a conservative interpretation of Johann Strauss waltzes. All of the elements were performed well above average, and their components averaged about 8.8. They placed fifth in the free dance and earned 172.03 points overall.  

"We are really so pleased with how we skated today; it was our best free dance of the season," Maia said. "This program has changed and developed so much. We want to continue to build on the momentum. This season has been a really strong season for us. Our big goal is the 2018 Olympics."

"We felt the energy all the way to the end," Alex said. "This was our eighth competition of the season, and we feel that we progressed through every event."

The three Russian couples placed seventh, eighth and ninth, and Russia will bring just two ice dance teams to Boston. The top Russians, Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin, were fifth after the short dance but dropped two spots after Ilinykh stumbled on the twizzle sequence and the team received lower component scores than the Shibutanis.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue climbed from 11th after the short dance to 10th overall with 156.56 points. They interpreted the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby in a fresh manner and with good expression. Their step sequences gained Level 3 and Level 2; their other five elements earned Level 4. Their program components averaged around 7.9.

"We're proud of ourselves for ending the season on a good note after the mistake we had in the short dance," Hubbell said. "It hasn't been the best circumstances for us in the last few years, but we ended on a strong note. We're excited to keep going for the next three years."

The team had to overcome an accident in their morning practice session, which resulted in Hubbell receiving three stitches to her lower leg.

"We were in our program with the music, and right at the end I was a little too close to Zach, and it was one of those things where I got the back of his blade into my shin," Hubbell said. "It was deeper than we initially thought. The doctor (Dr. Peter Gerbino) looked at it and decided I needed a few stitches. It's not too bad. It's one of those things that gets your adrenaline pumping."