Maia Shibutani

Americans Eye Podium After Short Dance; Canadian Pair Sets World Record

Two U.S. pairs, fighting for bronze, separated by less than a point

All three American teams are in position to contend for a medal in ice dance following the short dance portion of the competition Monday at Gangneung Ice Arena. The favorites entering the competition also asserted themselves, with Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir posting a world record-score for short dance.

The reigning United States champions, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, are in third place with a score of 77.75, two-hundredths of a point ahead of the brother-sister pair of Maia and Alex Shibutani. Madison Chock and Evan Bates are seventh and in medal contention, after receiving a season-high score of 75.45, despite an injury that Chock aggravated during warmups.

Virtue and Moir, who lead the field with 83.67 points, were Team Canada’s flag bearers at the opening ceremony and have a chance to become the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history. A trip to the podium in Pyeongchang would net them their fifth medal between ice dance and the team figure skating event.

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are in second place with 81.93 points. The French couple appeared a bit thrown off by Papadakis's costume, which came unhooked at the neck during their program. They held things together and now will rely on their stronger free dance Tuesday to track down the leaders.

Virtue and Moir won Olympic gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, then won silver four years later in Sochi. They stepped away from competition for two years, the taxing grind of more than 15 years spent working together having taken its toll, but returned to make another Olympic run.

They were nearly unstoppable last season, winning the world championship as if they had never been away, but were upset by Papadakis and Cizeron at the Grand Prix Final in December.

They proved Monday that they're still the team to beat.

Performing to Latin-infused music by the Rolling Stones, Eagles and Santana, Virtue and Moir were in lock-stop from the moment they stepped on the ice. They received level-four marks across the board, highlighted by their dazzling midline step sequence to open the program, and nailed their rhumba sequence on which they were harshly graded in helping Canada win the team event.

The crowd roared as the three-time world champions skated off to await their scores. The fans roared again when their record numbers were read, and the longest-tenured ice dance team in Canadian history smiled and hugged.

Papadakis and Cizeron followed them onto the ice and received mostly level-four marks, underscored by their in-step rhumba. The only miscue came on their closing straight line lift, perhaps because they were distracted by her emerald and blue dress revealing a bit too much.

Hubbell and Donohue proved their win last month at nationals, after years of frustration, was no fluke with a dramatic performance dragged down only by a small bobble on their synchronized twizzles.

The Shibutanis, who helped the U.S. win team bronze, overcame a shaky start to their performance with a strong second half, including a breathtaking rotational lift to finish.

Meanwhile, Chock and Bates had to push aside the uncertainty caused by her injury to put together a strong opening performance. Chock has a floating bone fragment in her right foot that she's dealt with all season, and it caused some pain about 30 seconds before their warmup was complete.

She planned to see a doctor later Monday, but doesn't expect to miss the free skate.

Copyright NBC Olympics - Pyeongchang
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