Ice Network

Virtue, Moir set new standard in winning short

Papadakis, Cizeron slot second; Hubbell, Donohue stand in third
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Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir broke their own world scoring record for the short dance Monday, earning 83.67 points for their program to a trio of classic rock songs, and the 2010 Olympic champions head into the free dance in first place. -Getty Images

Did a broken dress clasp decide Olympic ice dance gold?

This is a question that may be asked for years to come after Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada outscored French rivals Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron by 1.74 points in the short dance at Gangneung Ice Arena on Monday.

The Canadians performed their Latin rock routine like slinky, unleashed tigers, feeling every beat of music and attacking every element so hard and well the arena crackled with electricity. All five elements earned Level 4, with the nine-judge panel weighing in with mostly +3 GOE's and 19 perfect 10's for program components. Their 83.67 points is a new world record.

Papadakis and Cizeron, too, gained a slew of +3's and 10's, but a costume malfunction in the opening seconds of their program -- a clasp holding up Papadakis' halter dress at the back of her neck came undone -- noticeably constrained the energy and freedom of their short dance to an Ed Sheeran medley.

It is surprising, given the circumstances and performances, the finish was this close.

"It was some hooks on her neck, and (they) were sewn (shut) also, and it just got undone on the second movement," Marie-France Dubreuil, who coaches both couples in Montreal, said.

"Guillaume is holding her by the neck and probably ripped it on the way up. ... She has nerves of steel and Guillaume tried to keep the top at a place where she could keep going, so it was teamwork they did out there today. It's a testament to their hard work and training, because even with that huge distraction, they still managed to pull off 81 something (81.93) points."

Stopping the program to correct the problem was not a viable option. Under ISU rules, it would have cost the team up to five points.

"When I saw it come undone in the beginning, I looked at Romain [Haguenauer] and said, 'What do we do? Do we scream? Stop the music?'" Dubreuil said. "And he said they lose five points if they stop. And Gabby and Guillaume looked at each other and made a decision to keep going regardless."

The result was a turnaround from the couple's last meeting at the Grand Prix Final in December, when the French team defeated the Canadians by half a point in the short dance. Moir thinks he and Virtue have vastly improved their routine, set to a Latin classic rock medley of songs by the Eagles, Rolling Stones and Carlos Santana, since then.

"As well as that sensual, sexual feeling in a short dance, you do have a ton of athleticism," Moir said. "And once you start, you've got to keep going. We were trying to drive the power and speed more today, we knew we would need that against the French. We'll be looking to do the same thing tomorrow. We're in great shape. We feel we have more power in our blades, more power in our knees than we have ever had."

Not surprisingly, Papadakis and Cizeron were far less ebullient in the mixed zone.

"It's just frustrating to miss a few points because of a costume issue," Cizeron said, as his partner fought back tears. "That's not what we get ready for when we train. I'm still proud that we managed to pull out a program like that even with a difficulty like this."

"When you rotate, it's kind of hard to keep your dress on when it's open," Papadakis said.

Despite the mishap, the French still have a good chance for gold: They defeated Virtue and Moir by 1.76 points in the free dance at the Grand Prix Final.

As usual, the top two couples separated themselves from the rest of the field. Two U.S. teams -- Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani -- sit in a virtual tie some four points behind Papadakis and Cizeron.

Hubbell and Donohue, who train alongside the Canadian and French couples in Montreal, sold their samba and rumba routine with a vengeance, taking full advantage of their steamy on-ice chemistry to project energy and emotion up to the last row of the arena. Four of their elements gained Level 4; their twizzles, which ended slightly out of synch, earned Level 3. Their 77.75 points is a new personal best.

"Even in Chuncheon (training center), Patch (Lauzon) was just drilling us into the ice, lots of run-throughs," Hubbell said. "We wanted to be tired, no matter how hard we pushed. So that's a great feeling… In this moment of being here, we don't know if we will ever come back, we don't want to play it safe."

Should the top three remain the same after the short dance, Dubreuil and Lauzon -- themselves two-time world silver medalists -- will train all three Olympic medalists. Hubbell and Donohue, who won their first U.S. title in January, credit their move to Montreal in 2015 with perfecting their technique and training habits.

"We've made a big shift mentally to try to behave like champions," Hubbell said. "We have a rink full of legends, both our coaching staff and training mates, and those are examples we decided not to take for granted and try to emulate. The coaches definitely held us to a really high standard and we're learning to do that ourselves, on and off the ice."

The Shibutanis' short dance, set to an exuberant Perez Prado medley, has been a winner for the siblings all season long, defeating Hubbell and Donohue's routine in their two head-to-head meetings. Their effort here was every bit as polished and energetic, with an explosive four-part twizzle sequence and stunning closing rotational lift, but a Level 2 rumba pattern cost them several points. Still, their other four elements gained Level 4, and they sit just 0.02 points behind Hubbell and Donohue.

"We believe we are capable of breaking 80 (points), breaking 81," Alex said. "It was an amazing skate, it was the best skate of our season so far."

"It's our goal to be on the podium, and that was the skate we wanted to have," Maia said. "And again, that's all we can control."

The Shibutanis also earned a Level 2 on the rumba pattern in the team event.

"We got off the ice and they we redoing a slo-mo replay on the jumbotron, and (our coaches) looked really happy, and we felt really good about how we did (the rumba)," Alex said. "Getting a Level 4 on the midline steps was awesome, but we felt we skated it the same way in the team event (and got Level 3). It's just one things you can never say for sure."

Marina Zoueva, who coaches the Shibutanis in Canton, Michigan, believes the score would have been higher had the siblings performed in the final warm-up group, along with the top three finishers.

"It looks like if they had been in a different group they would have immediately had higher marks," Zoueva said. "That's my feeling. It was a pure and clear performance, precise, great quality of everything. The performance level was very high."

Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte scored 76.57 points for fifth place, while Olympic Athletes from Russia Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev sit sixth with 75.45 points.

Two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, third in the U.S. this season, had a season's best performance of their re-vamped short dance to a Marc Anthony medley, but the program lacked some of the vibrancy of the top couples' routines and Bates bobbled slightly on a twizzle. They earned 75.45 points for seventh place.

"We left one Level 4 on the table, the footwork at the end," Bates said. "The energy was really good, the performance quality was good, but considering the bad pain Madi skated in it's incredible."

In the mixed zone, Chock revealed that she has been suffering from a painful foot injury all season, aggravated during the warm-up in a mishap on a lift.

"I have an osteochondral lesion in my foot which means there is a loose bone fragment in my joint that is being held in by the cartilage, and when that happened it jostled it more, and it doesn't feel good," Chock said. "I will have extra ice and PT today."

"We did exactly the same movement right before Champs Camp (last August) and Madi suffered the injury, and at the time we weren't sure we were going to do the Grand Prix events," Bates said. "She's taped it up every day, she's gotten the cortisone shots. And then we did it with literally five seconds left in the warm-up… I knew she was going to skate well. It's a testament to her character."