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French duo dances their way to sizable lead in Paris

Papadakis, Cizeron put on show to claim top spot; Russians take second
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With tremendous support from the home crowd from start to finish, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron gathered gathered a total of 78.26 -- the second highest short dance score ever recorded under the international judging system. The French team takes a lead of almost 10 points into the free dance. -Getty Images

Following a rousing performance on home ice, France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron will enter the free dance with a sizeable lead over the second-ranked Russian duo of Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin.

The French team racked up 78.26 points for their short dance -- the second highest short dance score ever recorded under the international judging system -- while Ilinykh and Zhiganshin amassed 68.72 points, surpassing their season's best.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States sit third after accumulating 66.77 points, a score that has them just 1.95 points shy of their Russian rivals. Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are fourth with 64.74 points.

Most teams were warmly applauded throughout, which should come as no surprise since the talent level was incredible. Swing and disco sections certainly grasped the most applause, but the technical panel proved to be particularly harsh on all levels.

"That was the case for every team," a competitor said, "so it's not a problem!"

Papadakis and Cizeron skated last, delivering a soft and flexible blues performance, with their cushy knees and ankles amplifying their pure and long edges as if it were the expression of a bluesy soul. Their wavy cat-like arm movements emphasized the spirit of their dance, and their stationary lift -- which they rotated very low over the ice -- marked the start of their swing.

They then launched into an uplifting dance that ignited the crowd instantly, and they showed their unique capacity to dissociate their upper-body movements from their steps.

"It's cool to have these two pieces set the way they are," Cizeron rejoiced, "so that the swing and the party come at the end."

They received a Level 4 for their twizzles and lift, with a partial step sequence and no touch step sequence garnering Level 3 marks. Their components were, unsurprisingly, the best of the field, and they were rewarded with the top position in the field.

"We did a very good performance," Papadakis conceded afterward. "Especially for the start of the season. That's a good start."

Ilinykh and Zhiganshin delivered a perfect blues and enthusing swing that brought the crowd to its feet as well. Their curve lift, twizzles and midline no touch step sequence received a Level 2, and the partial step sequence received Level 3. All elements received Grades of Execution higher than 1, most notably their twizzles, and they went on to top their season's best.

Ilinykh, who won the 2014 Olympic bronze medal with Nikita Katsalapov, is known for the energy she displays on the ice. She's learned to control her energy better with Zhiganshin, and that improvement was most visible in the blues. As soon as the team's swing started, she nearly jumped into her piece with that fiery mood no one is able to match. Zhiganshin managed to follow her with a consistent intensity.

"I think we just feel each other," Ilinykh explained afterward. "He slows me down a little bit, and when I feel I need to go, then he follows. He makes me a lot quieter, and I really need that."

Hubbell and Donohue delivered a sensual, hot and upbeat dance to Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" and a medley of hip hop tunes. Hubbell had a quick wobble on the second series of twizzles but quickly composed herself after their planned choreographic steps. Much like Papadakis and Cizeron, the Americans hit all three key points, and their midnight blues was rated Level 4, as was their lift.

"Blues and hip hop was an easy choice for us, as we both like to dance. But, hip hop is a hard dance to put on the ice," Hubbell pointed out. "We really have to give all our energy to make it what it should be, so we really worked to reach the level we wanted."

Their connection throughout their number could be considered an element in itself, as they crafted a sincere and mutual attraction.

"That's our strength," Donohue offered. "We feed off each other."

Canada's Gilles and Poirier started their "Oh What a Night For Dancing" and "Disco Fever" short with poise and their usual playfulness. Their midnight blues and twizzles were rated Level 2, with Gilles understanding that missteps come and go.

"Those things happen; that's the sport," she said. "We feel we're at our best, and we were not nervous at all. I just simply realized that I was not over my foot and that was it."

Many thought that Israel's Isabella Tobias and Ilia Tkachenko would top the Canadians in the short program, but that didn't happen, as their midnight blues sequence received a Level 1, with no key point validated. The Israelis racked up 63.70 points, which was a new season's best, but they remain behind the Canadians.