Ice Network

Papadakis, Cizeron win short with personal best

Chock, Bates take second; Russians third; Weaver, Poje stumble to fifth
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Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron brought the Patinoire Polesud alive with their performance of their Ed Sheeran short dance. The two-time champions of this event set a new personal best with 81.40 points, and they sit atop the standings after the first day of competition. -Getty Images

Watching the practice sessions these last two days in Grenoble left no doubt that France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron would win the short dance. Not only did they win, finishing 7.85 points ahead of Team USA's Madison Chock and Evan Bates, but they displayed a most brilliant program.

Papadakis and Cizeron danced a samba and rumba to "Shape of You" and "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran. The two-time world champions validated all three key points of their rumba and picked up a Level 4 for the no touching step sequence, twizzles, rumba pattern and incredibly fast and precise straight line lift. Only their step sequence merited a Level 3. The three-time European champions set a new career high of 81.40 points, 0.30 more than their previous best.

There may be two kinds of ice dancers in the Latin genre: those who skate, and those who dance on skates. Papadakis and Cizeron are one of the very few teams in Grenoble that fall into the second category, along with the third-place team of Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin. Every part of their bodies moves at its own pace to the music -- he as if he is always suggesting the next step to come, and she following him and even amplifying his moves through her unique body flexibility.

Chock and Bates were the last to skate, right after Papadakis and Cizeron, and they enlivened the audience. The U.S. silver medalists received a Level 4 for their twizzles and curve lift, and a Level 3 for their two step sequences. They garnered 73.55 points to set a new season's best.

"We're getting comfortable with this program, and we're getting into the kind of place where we can really enjoy it," Bates offered.

That "place" may also allow the team to display the precision of their steps and edges that have become their trademark through the years.

"Technique is a fruit of our hard work," Chock confirmed. "This program is full of little nuances and subtleties. In Latin dances, every beat is so important and prevalent, and we've taken the time to work on all of these small details."

Stepanova and Bukin went through an exhilarating dance, from rumba to samba, and then back to those two rhythms again. Their twizzles and curve lift received a Level 4, their two step sequences a Level 3. Their rumba section was rated a Level 2.

"We skated calmly and felt very comfortable in our program," Stepanova said.

The two worked intensely with a ballroom dancer earlier in the season, and that showed Friday night.  

Italy's Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri delivered a precise routine, which included Level 4 twizzles, a Level 4 lift and Level 3 step sequences. They garnered 69.73 points and stand in fourth place entering the free, just 0.29 points off the podium.

Canada's Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje clearly had a higher finish in mind. They started their routine well, with a Level 3 step sequence and rumba, but Poje completely missed his twizzles, almost from the start. The couple's strength was then visible as they managed to regroup to save the rest of their dance, even receiving a Level 4 for their final lift. They stand in fifth place with 68.94 points, far from their usual standard but still putting them within reach of the podium.

The dance of Team USA's Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit was powerful and passionate.

"Our aim was to put passion and energy into our dance," Benoit said. "The audience was so responsive. There will be a few things to improve on, but altogether we're happy with the way we skated.

"We gave it our all -- if you're not exhausted at the end of a routine, it means you didn't!"

The team's success in the short dance certainly can be owed to Pogrebinsky's past experience.

"I was a ballroom dancer, in Latin dance, between the ages of 3 and 10," she recalled. "I was a national champion, and I danced with some of those who are now dancing on Dancing with the Stars. I'm sure that helped."