Ice Network

Chock, Bates set to begin Olympic season in Beijing

U.S. silver medalists eager to showcase new programs at Cup of China
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Madison Chock and Evan Bates hope their storytelling ability translates into favorable marks this season. -Getty Images

It's the first week of November, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are set to (finally) debut their Olympic programs this week at the 2017 Cup of China in Beijing.

"We've watched, we've followed the results, exciting stuff is happening," Chock said. "And we're excited to jump in and join the party."

The late debut is by design. The last several seasons, the two-time world medalists competed at early ISU Challenger Series events, making substantial changes to their programs after every competition. It culminated in some memorable performances, including last season, when their free dance to David Bowie's "Under Pressure" nearly brought the house down at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

It also put them under, well, pressure.

"I think it cost us 10 years of our life," Bates wryly joked. "We were stressed all year…We did those back-to-back senior B's and our theme throughout the season was, things changed too much."

"We've been monitored, we've shown our programs at Champs Camp, we've gotten feedback," he added. "We haven't trained in the dark. We're ready."

That doesn't mean there haven't been changes. In early April, Chock announced via Instagram the couple had selected music from the 2016 romantic musical film La La Land for their free dance. They choreographed the routine with 1984 Olympic ice dance champion Christopher Dean, but dropped it soon after in favor of John Lennon's "Imagine," also created with Dean.

"[La La Land] just wasn't working out quite the way we wanted and so we decided to keep searching for music," Chock said. "We thought of the song "Imagine" and just the fact that it felt so relevant to the times. We really felt a strong connection to it and thought we could make something special with it."

Going from a romantic musical, to an iconic song contemplating a world at peace without divisions of religion and nationality, is quite a leap. Bates thinks that's the point.

"We wanted to do something that had a really strong message, that would touch people more broadly," he said. "You just turn on the television or read the news and you can see the kind of things that are troubling a lot of people.

"The Olympic ideal [is one of] partnership, fair play, being united no matter what is going on politically in the world," he added. "Imagine a world where we respect each other's cultures, appreciate each other's cultures without hatred. A judgment-free place. The Olympics promote those ideals, and the music's message is very relevant."

So, the skaters traveled from their training site in Novi, Michigan, where they are coached by Igor Shpilband, to work with Dean in Colorado Springs, including for one week after Champs Camp in late August.

"We made a few trips out there, I think three, just to make sure we had it and took our time getting it right," Chock said. "When we got home, we worked on it more with Igor."

"The music is completely original," Bates said. "It's not [the original Lennon version] of "Imagine" -- we have a really wonderful, devoted and talented musician in Michigan, Sonia Lee, who has put many hours into (arranging) the piece. We're so happy with the way the music came together. I think it's more than we anticipated."

To make the program more personal, an Ann Arbor singer, Olivia Millerschin, added her voice to Lennon's original track, so the final product is a duet.

"With the duet, it makes it sound like they're speaking to each other and inspiring each other, and so that turns into a conversation we can interpret on the ice," Chock said.

The couple thinks their Latin short dance, set to selections from Marc Anthony, is right in their wheelhouse. In addition to working with longtime dance teachers Susan and Steve McFerren, coaches of the 10-time national champion University of Michigan ballroom team, they added Latin champion Oksana Zolotarevskaya to their team this season.

"[Oksana] has been a huge influence," Chock said. "She brings out the fire in both of us."

"The program has kind of a tribal, almost jungle kind of wild feel for Latin," she added. "We think it will be really different, compared to most of the Latin programs this year, and we're very excited for it."

Chock and Bates won world silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016, and were just 0.28 points out of medal position at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships after the short dance. An error on their free dance twizzles dropped them to seventh overall. The costly slip highlights how near-perfect execution is essential to most top ice dance couples.

"I do feel like we're at the point where we're competing against ourselves and trying to be our best selves," Bates said. "Having world and Olympic experience does lend itself to knowing what to expect and being able to handle nerves more readily, but our expectations get higher and higher every season. So, I'd say we put the most pressure on ourselves, so it doesn't necessarily get any easier."