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2020 Four Continents Championships, Ice Dance

Madison Chock & Evan Bates Repeat as Four Continents Champions

 by Tatiana Flade

(11 February 2020)  As in the past, North American teams dominated the Ice Dance competition and claimed all three medals. The USA and Canada had sent their top teams – except for Laurence Fournier-Beaudry &  Nikolaj Soerensen who were not yet ready to compete following his knee surgery.

The top teams in the world are very close in ability and just minor details make the difference as the competition proved once more. The U.S. dancers Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock & Evan Bates were practically tied in the Rhythm Dance. They earned the same levels for their elements: level four for the twizzles, the lift and the Finnstep pattern and a level three for the Pattern Dance step sequence and the midline respective diagonal step sequence. Hubbell & Donohue got a little bit more on the GOEs for their Marilyn Monroe themed dance while Chock & Bates had a slightly higher component score for their interpretation of “Too Darn Hot” and in the end just 0.19 points separated the two couples.

“It doesn’t change anything. Sometimes you get a big lead ahead in the short dance and that doesn’t mean you’re going to keep it for the free dance. We take it as two separate events. Today we won and we’re happy with that and tomorrow we’ll have a different goal and we’re going into tomorrow fresh, not expecting that that 0.20 will help,” Hubbell said. Donohue agreed: “It’s not about them (Chock & Bates). They’re going out to do your best and we’re going out to do our best. Honestly, when it comes down to these top few spots, especially when they get close and you get all these amazing skaters it’s not about the competition anymore, it’s about how in focus you can be and where you put your energy, because we’re not going to go faster than them and win by a second, it’s about our performance and what we put on the ice.”

Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier ranked third with their entertaining performance to “Mack and Mable”. Their Finnstep sequence garnered only a level two which held them back a little.

In the Free Dance, the standings shuffled. Hubell & Donohhue started well into their program set to songs by Lady Gaga from the movie “A Star is Born” with a combo spin, midline step sequence and rotational lift. But then Donohue wobbled on the twizzles and that mistake cost them almost four points. His twizzles were graded a level two and hers a level three. Although the two-time World medalists recovered and executed the remaining elements well, they were unable to make up for these lost points and slipped to third at 208.72 points.

“I would say that this free dance has been a little bit of a challenge for us this season. I’m a little bit sick of saying, ‘It wasn’t a great performance’”, Hubbell said. “I think we have to look at what we did well and we are improving. We have to go back to the drawing board a little bit with our team back home and figure out what to improve and how to show the strength that we have as a team with this vehicle. It is a passion project for us, we want it and we believe in it.

“Zach and I skate with a lot of power and for us to skate full out it does take a lot of energy and skating to something that's quite powerful in the beginning with the rock vibe and also even though it seems slow for the second half, it goes up quite high in intensity and emotion. Doing ten elements in four minutes it can be hard to bring that along. We want to show the program for what we see it which is two people navigating their rock star lifestyle, falling in love and surrendering to the moment. It is challenging to surrender to the moment and dancing together. Sometimes we struggle. For me, Zach is the strongest and most powerful man on the ice and it's hard to skate with that when he goes full out. So sometimes that leads to errors that cost us points. That will be something to work on for the next month in order to show the program in all of its reckless abandon but not let the program get away from us from a technical side,” she explained.

Chock & Bates’ “Egyptian Snake Dance” already has become a signature piece for them. It is a great vehicle for the Americans and when they perform it, you can feel that they love every second of it. They bring it across very well. The U.S. Champions picked up a level four for five elements, only the circular step sequence was rated a level three. They had to overcome a scare when Chock slipped on a transition move and fell, but she was back up again instantly. As the mistake did not happen on an element, it was not so costly, and Chock & Bates won the Free Dance and pulled up to first overall with 213.18 points.

“It feels so good, I’m so happy. This is a really special event for us. We love Four Continents,” Chock commented. “I scared myself. Maybe I stepped on something, it was out of the blue, I was trying to catch myself,” she said about the fall. “This program brings us so much joy and it’s a pleasure for us to perform every time. It's a very unique program, it's something that we haven't done before and it's so fun to keep it performing throughout the season and just see how our programs evolve. It's definitely my favorite program that we've ever done.”
Bates said: “It (the performance) was a testament on how well trained we are because we picked up really quickly from this fall that took us by surprise. Within 20 or 30 second we were right back on the music, we were back in the performance. But the jolt kind of took some energy away from us. I think just coming off our national championships we were just fighting out there to put together the best performance we could and we’re just so grateful that we were able to do enough.”

Gilles & Poirier put out a flawless dance to “Both Sides Now” by Canadian singer Joni Mitchell. Their elements and transitions were very smooth, the levels strong. The Canadian Champions moved up to second place to take their second silver medal at Four Continents since 2014 (back then Hubbell & Donohue had won). They totaled 210.18 points.

“I think we’re both really proud of ourselves. Having Nationals only two weeks ago, coming here I think all the athletes are a bit tired. We didn’t try to overdo it and we didn’t hold back either. I think we are very happy with ourselves, we got some great levels today,” Gilles pointed out.

“We’ve been very consistent this season and that’s really proving we’ve been approaching our training the right way, we’ve been approaching competing the right way. We’ve given ourselves the task of being on the podium at Worlds, we feel like we’re getting closer and closer. There are still some more points to squeeze out and some more couples to beat and we have a long training block now before Worlds,” Poirier commented.

Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu of China have constantly improved since moving to Montreal. Both their programs are very popular and well done. In the Rhythm Dance, they are interpreting “Charlie Chaplin”, showing a different and fun side of themselves, while the Free Dance to “Swan Lake” is dramatic and powerful. Liu is very tall and the couple shows some spectacular lifts. Their levels are solid with mostly fours and threes like for the top three teams. Their fourth place was their best result since they started to compete at Four Continents in 2014 (196.75 points).

“We are were very happy about our performance. We finally were able to show off everything we are able to do in our training”, Wang said about their Free Dance. “We got the best result a Chinese ice dance pair has ever gotten at the Four Continents. Our goal is definitely to achieve more and we want to keep improving,” her partner added.

Canada’s World Junior Champions Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha continued a successful senior debut season by placing fifth on 192.11 points. They turned in two clean performances to “West Side Story” in the Rhythm Dance and to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the Free Dance. The Canadians still look a bit “juniorish” compared to the more experienced teams, but they are developing well.

“We knew it (moving up to the senior level) was a big step. At the beginning especially for me it was bigger than expected and it was a very hard beginning. The more we skated in senior, the more we learned how to deal with it”, Lajoie explained. “We just wanted to do very well. There is something beyond the result, the scores. We wanted to skate very well for us. There was not one time this season yet when we skated without any major mistakes. Even at Nationals there were some stumbles, but now we finally did two good performances”, Lagha noted.

2018 Four Continents Champions Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker (USA) had an unfortunate fall on the exit of their lift in their otherwise entertaining Rhythm Dance to “Saturday Night Fever” that left them in seventh place.

“The lift was really solid, the accident I think just our blades clicked when we landed, so it just a fluke thing that happened, and our feet got taken out from underneath us,” Hawayek commented. The National bronze medalists put in a clean performance of their Free Dance to the unusual Flamenco version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (which is not everyone’s cup of tea although they are very precise in their movements and match the character of the music). However, his twizzles and the circular footwork merited only a level two. The 2014 World Junior Champions pulled up one spot to finish sixth at 188.49 points.

“Yesterday was not what we wanted, but the nice thing about waking up everyday is that it’s the past and you get a fresh start every time you get up and get out of bed. We really had that intention with our energy today. And from the moment we woke up we made sure we were with each other every step of the way today to put out a solid, focused commanding performance,” Hawayek shared. “For future seasons I’m honestly so excited due to the fact of the amount of growth Kaitlin and I have made this season. Not just technically and skating skill wise but just on a personal level as well. It’s just by far more than we can explain really. Just learning to compete with a whole different intention, it’s something that the IAM (Ice Academy of Montreal) are really instilling on us to be real adult competitors so we can just do what we do,” Baker added.

Canadians Carolane Soucisse & Shane Firus had a solid Rhythm Dance, but not the highest levels. In the Free Dance, he wobbled in the one foot step sequence while she struggled with the twizzles. They placed seventh (174.41 points).

“It was definitely not what we trained for, not what we wanted to do. We were more than ready for this competition, so (it was) very unfortunate,” Firus commented.

Yura Min & Daniel Eaton are a new dance team that represents Korea. Min split up with former partner Alexander Gamelin following the Olympic season and Eaton, a two-time World Junior bronze medalist with Alexandra Aldridge, had also no partner and was about to retire. On the suggestion of their coaches, Min & Eaton tried out and felt right away that they were a good match. They made no major mistakes in their debut to come eighth, although their preparation was not the best as Min accidentally broke Eaton’s nose in training and they lost some time.

“It was a wonderful experience being in our home country being with our fans”, Eaton said. “It was awesome to hear them clapping and helping the skaters so much and we really appreciate it. We definitely have a lot of work when we get home. I am really excited to return to the World Championship. It is going to be a fun experience with Yura.”

Another new team also can be happy with their debut: Australia’s Holly Harris & Jason Chan have been skating together only for a few months, but won the National title and were the top Australian team in ninth place in Seoul. They train in Montreal and Chan is Canadian.

“We didn’t want to have any expectations going into this. It’s really encouraging that each competition we are improving so fast. Because we’ve only been together since July 2019, we're learning things at an accelerated pace. But I think we’re learning a lot each time we go out and skate,” he said.