Ice Network

U.S. ice dance in good hands with Chock, Bates

Michigan duo made podium at all eight competitions this season
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Madison Chock and Evan Bates more than filled the U.S. ice dance void left by Meryl Davis and Charlie White. -Jay Adeff

Icenetwork will announce its choice for 2014-15 Person of the Year later this month. Here's one of the nominations for that honor from icenetwork contributor Sarah S. Brannen.

Like so many others, the Olympics drew me to figure skating. In 1988 a member of Team USA won the gold in men's and took bronze in ladies and pairs. A medal in dance was out of the question; everyone knew that Americans weren't in the running for the podium.

They never were. The U.S. sent one superb team after another to the world championships in the 1990s, but the possibility of winning a medal seemed slim.

Fast forward to the present day, and the change that the U.S. has seen in ice dance is stunning. Like the American ladies of the '90s, it's almost expected that a U.S. dance team -- or two -- will medal at the world championships. U.S. dance teams have won medals at each of the last three Olympics.
 
The state of ice dance in the U.S. is best exemplified by Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who went to the 2015 World Championships as first-time national champions and climbed straight onto the podium, just missing out on gold after finishing first in the short dance. Their rise from fifth in 2014 to second in 2015 may not compete with the staggering ascent of France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who went from 13th in the world to first in the matter of a season, but their sudden superiority makes them excellent candidates for Persons of the Year.

Chock and Bates are still a relatively new team, having competed together for four years. During the 2014-15 season, they won Skate America, the Rostelecom Cup and the U.S. championships. They finished second at the Grand Prix Final, Four Continents and World championships and capped off their season with gold at the World Team Trophy.

"The key for us was how prepared we were," Chock said by phone. "We had a plan going into the season and we had an end goal."

"Since we had increased our expectations for ourselves, we also had to increase our work ethic," Bates said. "Last summer, in particular, we took it to the next level with intensity, working smarter, knowing the game plan, being more efficient with our time. That helped us be more prepared early in the year."

Chock and Bates excel under the current rules, scoring big points with acrobatic, innovative lifts and great speed and power over the ice. Their paso doble short dance put them in first several times throughout the season. They skated a huge pattern, keeping their speed up in the counter-clockwise direction, with very close footwork.

Part of the team's athletic skill stems from their height difference: Bates is 11 inches taller than Chock. But the personality of each skater is a also big part of the team's appeal. Bates is steady, fun and friendly, while Chock is dramatic, intense and lively.

"The way our personalities blend has been a huge bonus," Bates said. "We get each other's humor. A lot of the time we're having fun, and that makes the whole thing much, much better. Madi has wonderful artistry and a really effective personality on the ice. She's a great performer, and able to connect with the music and portray a wide range of characters, which makes us very versatile."

"Evan has a really strong work ethic, and he's a perfectionist," Chock said. "We're both on the same page. He's very supportive every day that we skate, and it's great to have a partner like that!"

Their unique ability to incorporate difficult elements into a moving performance is a testament to their great chemistry.

"[Chock] has a really natural expression. It's not always that we can find someone who can express different styles in such a natural way," said two-time world bronze medalist Fabian Bourzat, who helps train the team in Novi, Michigan. "She's technically strong, and she trusts him. He's really daring. They both want to push the boundaries of the lifts."

Looking ahead, the two skaters know they have things to improve on if they want to turn their silvers into golds. They said they plan to work on their unison and fluidity, and on showing more connection with each other. They didn't discuss their rivals; like all skaters, they know all they can do is to try to improve and let the results happen.

Bourzat sums up the attitude: "If you don't look back, and try to move forward all the time, it doesn't matter what you have in front of you."