Ice Network

Virtue, Moir hold off French for second Olympic title

Papadakis, Cizeron take silver in remarkable event; Shibutanis win bronze
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Holding a 1.74-point lead entering the day, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir turned in a career-best performance to win the title over France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. By posting 122.40 points in the segment and a world-record total of 206.07, the Canadians held on for their second Olympic gold medal in the past three Winter Games. -Getty Images

The 20-year ice dance partnership of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir reached its peak at the Gangneung Ice Arena on Tuesday, when the Canadians edged their rivals and training partners Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France by 0.79 points to win a second individual Olympic gold medal.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who entered the free dance in a virtual tie for third place with U.S. teammates Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, performed their best free dance of the season to claim bronze.

"We were holding our breath in the kiss and cry," Moir, 30, said. "We thought that was a good enough skate to win an Olympic title, but you never know in this sport. Ice dance has come a long ways even in our career. You have to get your points and you have to skate strong technically. We felt like we were really together, we were really strong, but you never know."

The Canadians entered the free dance just 1.74 points ahead of the French, despite skating an electric, world-record short dance while Papadakis and Cizeron -- clearly distracted by a broken clasp holding up the top of Papadakis' halter dress -- had wobbly twizzles and an awkward lift. With the young French couple's lyrical free dance to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" outscoring Virtue and Moir's earthy and sensual Moulin Rouge! routine all season long, it seemed victory was well within Papadakis and Cizeron's grasp.

"We had no idea what number we needed to hit today, in order to beat Gaby and Guillaume for the Olympic gold medal," Moir said. "But what we did know was how we would have to skate. We came up with a plan with our team yesterday that we wouldn't know how they skated, that we would block our ears."

"No matter what happens, we get our four minutes and we want to make sure we took advantage of it," Virtue, 28, said. "And we felt we did."

Where the French team caressed the ice in "Moonlight Sonata," the Canadians attacked, opening the Moulin Rouge! program with an aggressive tango and telling the story of Satine and Christian's volatile relationship with passionate embraces and acrobatic -- and more-than-slightly suggestive -- lifts. When a fast three-part twizzle sequence ended in perfect unison, the crowd cheered; when Moir flipped Virtue up to his shoulders during a rotational lift, and she grabbed his face, it roared.

The Canadians gained all Level 4's from the technical panel, and a predominance of +3 Grades of Execution (GOEs) from the nine-member judging panel. Papadakis and Cizeron outscored them on both technical elements and program components, but it wasn't quite enough: the Canadians' 122.40 points gave them the win with 206.07 points overall.

"We did a lot of changes to the Moulin Rouge! program to have a big ending and I think it was the right choice," said Marie-France Dubreuil, who trains the top two couples in Montreal. "Today was just a good event, two great teams; one was first and the other second."

Virtue and Moir now own five Olympic medals: two individual golds (2010 and 2018), an individual silver (2014), team gold (2018) and team silver (2014), giving them the record for most Olympic medals won by a figure skater or figure skating couple. They have also won three world titles, defeating Papadakis and Cizeron in Helsinki last season in their return to competition after a two-season break.

"They were born under good stars, they found each other at a young age, it's a partnership that kept growing," Dubreuil said. "Twenty years of skating together, eyes closed they know what the other one is doing."

"They are once in a generation talents, and I think a whole generation will be influenced by them and will be inspired by them," Patrice Lauzon, Dubreuil's coaching partner and husband, added.

Papadakis and Cizeron's "Moonlight Sonata" was also nearly perfect -- ethereal and delicate while still showing power and speed. Dissecting individual elements seems beside the point; the two-time world champions swept across the ice, creating a complete work of art. They earned 123.35 points, setting yet another new world standard for the free dance.

"It definitely was the best we ever skated the program," Cizeron, 23, said. "We had a really big moment out there. We're just really proud of that. Of course, if we had made more points yesterday (in the short dance) we would have been in first."

"It is hard to forget (about the costume malfunction), but we will have to," Papadakis, 22, said.

Dubreuil acknowledged that the ill-timed short dance mishap likely cost the French couple several points.

"Of course, Gaby and Guillaume had a costume malfunction yesterday and it cost them points, because they didn't perform the program the way they usually perform the program," she said. "But today they came in with a lot of confidence, a lot of world records."

Marina Zoueva coached Virtue and Moir to silver, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White to gold, at the Sochi Olympics four years ago. Dubreuil and Lauzon equaled that feat here, although Papadakis and Cizeron are also trained by Romain Haguenauer.

"These kids, we train them five hours a day, we see them grow, we know what their goals are and we just support that," Dubreuil said. "This competition is about them, not about us. In whatever order (they finish), it's the same to us."

Moir gave his coaches full credit for his and Virtue's successful return to competition during the 2016-17 season.

"Our first meeting with Marie-France and Patrice, we threw everything at them, and they were so classy," he said. "We had baggage, I was out of shape, and I had mental things to work through. We could not have done anything without them; we would not have made it through the first summer."

Of the two U.S. teams battling for bronze, the Shibutanis appeared to be at a disadvantage: they had lost the free dance to Hubbell and Donohue the last two times the couples met. But the siblings performed by far their best outing of Coldplay's "Paradise" of the season, with more speed and abandon than even their team event performance earlier in the Games. They earned Level 4's for six of their seven elements, with their rotational lift gaining Level 3, and gained 114.86 points to finish with 192.59 in total.

"We were disappointed where we were (fourth place) going into the free dance, but we've been around long enough, and been competitors long enough, to know that the competition isn't over until it's over," Alex said. "We had a great free dance performance in us, and I'm so glad we laid it down."

"There have been a lot of people who have told us that we couldn't do it, or that siblings shouldn't be a team, but we believed in ourselves and we accomplished this together," Maia said. "I'm so proud of all of the work we've done."

Hubbell and Donohue showed off their trademark steamy chemistry and smooth movements in their free dance to sexy and soulful blues medley, but opened the program with shaky twizzles. Then, near the end, Donohue stumbled on a choreographic highlight move, incurring a one-point penalty for a fall. They earned 109.94 points, and dropped from third place after the short dance to fourth place overall with 187.69 points.

"Just too many little errors giving away technical points and taking away program component scores," Hubbell said. "We knew right away when we finished we had given it away and that's a pretty hard feeling."

In the mixed zone, Donohue was still perplexed by the fall.

"I wasn't in a good enough mental state at that point in the program, staying focused," Donohue said. "There is no good excuse or reason something like that happens, when I can do it a billion times out of a billion at home."

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR), placed fifth, marking the first time in history a Russian, Soviet or Unified Team (1992) ice dance couple did not win a medal at an Olympic Games.

Two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, third in the U.S. this season, were well on their way to a stirring performance of their "Imagine" free dance when Bates lost his footing on the entrance to a combination spin and both skaters fell. They earned no points for the element and incurred a two-point deduction, placing 12th in the free dance and ninth overall with 175.58 points.

"I think we just clicked blades entering the spin; it's really impossible to spin with that kind of friction," Bates said. "One moment things were going exactly how we were wanting them to, then the next moment, in a flash, disaster struck."

"We've worked so hard this season to re-invent ourselves and I think we have done that," Chock said. "We've been through so much this season, I'm proud of us regardless of this. I've been injured all season (with an osteochondral lesion in her foot) and I've managed it and skated well. It just sucks that this happens at the Olympic Games. But it's OK, life goes on and we'll go on and we'll be OK."