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Defending Ice Dance Champs Chock And Bates Start Strong At Nationals

By Chrös McDougall | Jan. 22, 2016, 7:38 p.m. (ET)

Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete in the short dance at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championship on Jan. 22, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When an American ice dance team wins a national title, usually it wins a couple more. Not since 1995 has the winning team not also won the year before or after.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates appear to be on their way to continuing that tradition.

The defending champions lead the field with 75.14 points after the short dance at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships Friday afternoon in St. Paul, Minnesota. Should they come out first after tomorrow’s free dance, Chock and Bates could be on their way to being the next American ice dance dynasty.

It’s not something they’re dwelling on.

“Obviously there’s a quite a legacy that has been set in place, and obviously we hope to follow in their footsteps,” Chock said. “But at the same time, we are just focused on our programs and our performance together as skaters, and I think the main goal is to show how much we’ve grown throughout the season and have our best performance.”

They’re off to a good start.

Skating to a short dance overhauled in September — performed to a combination of “More” by Andrea Bocelli and “Unchained Melody” by Il Divo — the Novi, Michigan-based team posted the fifth-best short dance score at the U.S. championships since the new scoring system was implemented 11 years ago.

It continued a run of positive performances. They’re coming off a second-place finish at last month’s ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain, which came after a second-place finish at Cup of China and a win a Skate America, both ISU Grand Prix events.

“This was a great day for us,” Chock said. “We felt really good when we were skating, we felt connected to each other, and connected to our music.”

Having also updated their free dance after the Cup of China, and then both being sick over the holidays, Bates called this their “most challenging season.” Yet going into the free dance, the 2014 Olympians and 2015 world silver medalists feel they are finally starting to get into their groove.

“Coming into this week I think we were both relieved with the fact that we’ve had the programs set in place for more than a few weeks, which was the case at every grand prix it felt like,” Bates said. “So we were really thrilled with the way it went today.”

Even with their strong start, Chock and Bates have strong competition from sibling partners Maia and Alex Shibutani, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

The “Shib Sibs,” also 2014 Olympians, ended the short dance less than a point behind Chock and Bates in second place with 74.67 points, while Hubbell and Donohue were third with 71.10.

The three teams are the front-runners in the U.S. ice dance program, which has outshined its U.S. figure skating compatriots of late.

The Shibutanis have won U.S. championships at the intermediate (2006), novice (2007) and junior (2010) levels, and since joining the senior ranks in 2011 they’ve finished second or third every year. The Michigan natives have also had international success, including a fourth-place finish last month at the Grand Prix Final and a bronze medal at the 2011 world championships, along with 11 medals at grand prix events.

They’re optimistic this can be the year they break through, especially going into a new free dance performed to Coldplay’s “Fix You.”

“That was our strongest short dance performance of the season so far,” Maia Shibutani said, adding “Everything he is headed in the right direction.”

Hubbell and Donohue, who moved to Montreal in the offseason, were sixth at the Grand Prix Final and third at last year’s U.S. championships.

“We’ve stepped it up at every competition so far this season, and today was no exception,” Hubbell said. “So we were very happy.”

Should either team knock off Chock and Bates this weekend, they’d be writing a new era into the U.S. ice dancing record books.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White won six U.S. titles in a row through 2014, and they were preceded by Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who won five in a row. Before that, Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev five-peated, and Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow won three in a row before that.

The last U.S. ice dancers not to repeat were 1995 champs Renee Roca and Gorsha Sur (though they also won in 1993).

Chrös McDougall has been a reporter and editor for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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