Competing out from under the shadow of six-time U.S. ice dance champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White has proven to be more psychological than anything else for Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
With the Olympic gold-medal duo of Davis and White taking this season off, Chock and Bates have won two grand prix events, replaced Davis and White on the top step of the U.S. championships podium and taken silver medals at the prestigious Grand Prix Final and Four Continents events.
That doesn’t mean Chock and Bates have forgotten their veteran competitors, who competed eight years on the senior figure skating circuit.
“Nationals was very different for us this year,” Chock said. “We were so used to having Meryl and Charlie around, and it’s almost like they shepherd all the teams. They set such a great example every competition they were in, going out and just being so prepared and elegant.
“It’s almost like we were kind of looking for them: ‘Where are they? Where are they?’”
With their U.S. title and international accolades in hand, Chock and Bates will lead Team USA’s 11-entry roster heading into next week’s world championships in Shanghai, China, along with women’s Four Continents champion Polina Edmunds, Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Ashley Wagner and Four Continents men’s runner-up Joshua Farris.
Chock, 22, and Bates, 26, took seventh at worlds in 2013 and moved up to fifth last year.
|Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete in the free dance at the 2015 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Greensboro Coliseum on Jan. 24, 2015 in Greensboro, N.C.
That, combined with an eighth-place finish in their Olympic debut in Sochi, Russia, gave them impetus to reassess their goals heading into this season.
“We definitely set a lofty goal for ourselves last summer, competing for a world title,” Bates said. “But with every competition, you kind of have more self belief. We’ve this year seen especially our scores go up quite a bit, and we feel stronger than ever.
“And so I think what in the summer was a lofty goal is now really a realistic goal for us.”
Chock and Bates head a three-team U.S. ice dancing contingent that also includes sister and brother duet Maia and Alex Shibutani (the “Shib Sibs”), the U.S. champion runners-up and Four Continents bronze medalists, and U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who had two third-place grand prix event finishes.
U.S. title hopefuls in the other disciplines include the 16-year-old Edmunds, 19-year-old Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner, 23, in the women’s competition. All three competed for Team USA at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
After a ninth-place finish at Sochi and eighth-place finish in the world championships last year while still competing on the junior circuit, Edmunds had a fourth-place showing at the Cup of China and an eighth-place at the NHK Trophy this past fall before winning Four Continents. She finished fourth at the U.S. championships but was selected for the world championships team because the third-place finisher, Karen Chen, was not age eligible.
Gold was fourth and less than six points off the medals podium in Sochi last year, and this year won the NHK Trophy in addition to placing third at Skate America and fourth at Four Continents.
Wagner, the most experienced of the U.S. women now in her eighth season on the senior level, had three podium finishes on the grand prix circuit this season, including runner-up at Skate Canada.
In the men’s competition, Farris, 20, has been a late-season surprise. He’s pivoted from an 11th-place showing at the NHK Trophy, where he fell and truncated jumps, to a bronze-medal performance at the U.S. championships and a runner-up showing at Four Continents in the past two months.
He’s the most junior member of the U.S. men’s trio that also includes U.S. champion Jason Brown, who was ninth in his Olympic debut last year, and 25-year-old Adam Rippon, the U.S. runner-up, a two-time world junior champion and the 2010 Four Continents champion.
Team USA will only have two pairs in the world championships field: recently crowned U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier.
Despite Team USA’s record 53 world championship titles won in the event’s history, Davis’ and White’s two in 2011 and 2013 accounted for half of the United States’ gold medals over the past 11 years.
The momentum, seemingly with the likes of Chock and Bates, Farris and the strong women’s team, gives them hope that they can add to Team USA’s legacy.
“I think we’ve been on a really good trajectory so far this season, and feeling stronger and really prepared going into worlds really helps a lot,” Chock said. “Now we have a second wind for the second half of the season and we’re feeling really strong and confident going into worlds.”
Brian Trusdell has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.