GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
Get used to saying those names, Team USA fans.
Chock and Bates were crowned U.S. ice dance champions at the 2015 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday evening, also known as the successors of Davis and White, who reigned supreme as the national champions from 2009-14, and Belbin and Agosto, the five-time winners from 2004-08. Davis and White opted to take the season off from competitive skating after winning gold at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
“Filling those shoes is really such a daunting task that we don’t really put that upon ourselves,” Bates said. “We saw Meryl and Charlie this week and actually had a chance to have dinner with Charlie. He said right to us, ‘You don’t have to fulfill anything or you don’t have to take over for us or anything like that.’
“We are Madi and Evan. We’ve won one national championship and we’re very thankful for it and ecstatic about it. That’s no legacy, that’s one championship. I think it’s a great start and I’m ecstatic about it.”
Whether they want the expectations that come with being the top U.S. ice dancers, Chock and Bates do have a viable shot at starting their own legacy, which begins with Saturday’s win.
In the first half of the season, they won both their ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series assignments and finished second at the Grand Prix Final to Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.
Considering Davis and White were together for 16 years before winning their Olympic gold medal, it has been a quick rise to the top for the team of Chock and Bates, which first formed in the summer of 2011. Previously, Chock was partnered with Greg Zuerlein, with whom she earned the U.S. bronze medal in 2011, and Bates was skating with Emily Samuelson, with who he competed at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
“We’ve definitely grown a lot and grown together, which I think is very important,” Chock said. “Even though we may not have as many years together as most teams might, I think we’ve known each other so long and we have great coaches. We’re both really hard workers and we make it work.”
Vying with Chock and Bates to be at the forefront of ice dance in the U.S. and the world are 2015 silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. The Shib Sibs, as they’re known, were only 0.11 points behind Chock and Bates after the short dance Friday. Though they did not manage to overcome the eventual champions (Chock and Bates had a final score of 185.06 to the Shibutanis’ 181.31), the Shibutanis were still satisfied with their two standout performances in Greensboro.
“It’s been a great week for us,” said Alex Shibutani, who has been competing with his sister for 11 years. “We’ve competed so many times already this season, so we were looking to take everything we’ve learned from our performances so far into the U.S. championships. We made a lot of changes and a lot of improvements since the Grand Prix Final in December. Today was definitely our best performance of the season and we are looking forward to Four Continents and world championships later on this year.”
As first-year seniors in the 2010-11 season, the Shibutanis were able to capture two grand prix medals, silver medals at the U.S. championships and Four Continents Championships, and the bronze at the 2011 World Championships.
Since then, while they were second in the U.S. in 2012 and third in both 2013 and ’14, they have been unable to medal at Four Continents and their best finish since 2011 at worlds is sixth place.
“Our next big goal is the 2018 Winter Olympics and I think we’ve learned it’s about the journey and about every day and each experience and how you approach every opportunity that you have, so I think we are on the right path,” Maia Shibutani said.
“2011 was kind of a historic year for ice dance for us,” Alex Shibutani continued. “I don’t think any team had come in and won (world) bronze their first year competing as a senior dance team and that was very exciting. We were so thrilled with that accomplishment and we’ll always have it. We are trying to get back to there; not necessarily to the bronze medal position at worlds but to the top and we’ve been climbing back and improving every year.”
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who have had arguably their most successful season together to date with two grand prix medals, were disappointed by their performance in the free dance, but still managed to finish with the bronze medal with a score of 164.74.
“This wasn’t quite the dream that we had when you think of skating really well and skating your strongest,” Hubbell said. “We can only be thankful to our coaches and the last four weeks of really hard training because even on a very off day and struggling through every element, we were able to make our goal. We are going to go home and work harder.”