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Chock, Bates take the fast track to Skate Canada

New dance team preparing to compete together

Madison Chock and Evan Bates
Madison Chock and Evan Bates ()

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(09/02/2011) - Since pairing up early this summer, Madison Chock and Evan Bates have been operating on two speeds: fast, and faster.

"We've been together for about seven weeks," Bates, 22, said after the team's debut at the Onyx Figure Skating Challenge in Rochester, Mich., on Aug. 26.

"Our choreography came together about five weeks ago, and we started going full force with it about two weeks ago. The free dance came together before the short program, but it all came together really quickly."

The couple had little choice. According to U.S. Figure Skating's competition readiness guidelines, skaters must show their programs about 35 days before an international event.

Since Chock and Bates are shooting for a spot at Finlandia Trophy, to be held in early October, they had to get real good, real fast.

"We had to get it together before September 1," Bates said. "We really wanted to get ready, to potentially be considered for a fall assignment. That was our goal, and here we are three days before Sept. 1, so we just made it."

Earlier this week, they got an even greater prize. An ice dance slot opened up at Skate Canada (Oct. 27-30), and since Chock and former partner Greg Zuerlein placed in the top 12 at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships (they were ninth), the new team appeared on the Grand Prix substitution list and were selected to compete.

"We're just getting used to each other," Chock, 19, said. "When you compete with someone you get used to a routine, like warming up and all that stuff. We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we'll be ready for any assignments."

"For us, we are sort of in later stages in our careers; not that we are old or anything, we are young, but we have had a lot of experience with our previous partners," Bates said. "Having that experience helped us a lot when we came together. I think it's going better than I thought it would go, better than we even hoped it would."

That the two are skating together at all is one of the surprises of the season, and according to Igor Shpilband, fans should expect more of the unexpected.

"They're a great new team," Shpilband said. "I think everybody will be surprised but it will be a good surprise; that's what I'm hoping. [U.S. Figure Skating's] international committee wanted them to compete at Onyx and I'm going to look at the tapes.

"They have already improved so much. Their programs, especially the free dance [to a jazzed-up version of Chopin's "Prelude in E minor"], are completely different; you'll never see any other team do this type of free dance."

Chock, who won the 2009 world junior title and 2011 U.S. bronze medal with Zuerlein, found herself without a partner when Zuerlein elected to retire and complete his college degree.

"Greg and I were doing really well, but then after worlds he decided he wanted to quit skating, there were other things he wanted to pursue," she said. "I, obviously, wanted to keep skating, so I had tryouts and was looking for a partner."

Neither Chock nor Shpilband, who with Marina Zoueva trains the dancers in Canton, Mich., thought of Bates, who was skating with longtime partner Emily Samuelson, with whom he won the 2009 U.S. silver medal and placed 11th at the Vancouver Olympics.

"When Greg decided to quit after worlds, that was actually a surprise for us and for Madi," Shpilband said. "Madi had a couple of good tryouts before Emily and Evan split up. She took some time and consideration. She skated with Keiffer Hubbell, an excellent tryout, he's a great skater, and with Collin Brubaker, but she chose to skate with Evan.''

Bates had returned to training in Canton with Samuelson after his ruptured Achilles' tendon took the couple out of the 2010-11 season. According to him, the team was unable to regain its previous form.

"I got back on the ice after my Achilles' injury and Emily and I skated together for a few months, from like March up until May, and the feeling was kind of different," he said. "We had quite a bit of struggle to rekindle what we had and it had become kind of frustrating; the skating was not [feeling] the way it was supposed to feel.

"It was definitely a big evaluation of my skating life and what I wanted to do with it. I guess I felt I wanted to come back from the injury and continue as long as I could. I wanted a fresh start and I wanted to make a change."

This summer, top U.S. lady ice dancers had no shortage of suitors, and Chock (and Samuelson, who recently announced a new partnership with Todd Gilles) had young men lining up.

"The skating world is so small, everybody knows everybody," Bates said. "We all trained together in Canton last season up until the time I got injured. I didn't know Greg was going to retire, but I saw Madi at the rink skating on her own and she had a lot of tryouts. When I became available I asked her for a tryout and she said yes.

"I didn't know if we were going to skate together. I was trying out with her and other guys were trying out with her. It was like The Bachelorette. One day she told me she wanted to skate with me."

Certainly, Chock and Bates hope their partnership is happier and longer-lasting than most of those formed on The Bachelorette. They've already made a solid start.

"It felt really good [at Onyx], but it's a local competition; we're not competing against very many teams," Bates said. "Circumstances were different than they would be at a major event, we had to perform both programs on the same day, so I think given a couple more weeks we can be even better.

"We're very happy with the programs Igor and Marina have given us. The short is a Rumba, Rumba, Samba; the music is "Chica Chica Boom Chick" [first], I don't know the next piece, and the last piece is "Boom Diggy Diggy." It's a strange assortment of noises that flow together in Samba rhythm. It's a fun program for us."

Shpilband, while surprised by the turn of events, supported the skaters' decision.

"They ask for guidance, but [they] also say what they want to do," he said. "You can't force people to do what they don't want to do, if they feel in their hearts that's the way it should be. You have to respect that, you have to support that.

"They are enjoying it every day, skating with each other. You can't take the smiles off of their faces. They work the normal hours and get all the normal lessons and then come back for extra. They are on the ice more than anyone else. They enjoy it so much and it's very exciting to see that."