By Craig Bohnert | Feb. 17, 2017, 10:28 a.m. (ET)
(L-R) Maia and Alex Shibutani, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates pose on the podium during the ice dance medal ceremony at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships at Gangneung Ice Arena on Feb. 17, 2017 in Gangneung, South Korea.

 

Ice dance at the Four Continents Championships has been a private party between Team USA and Canada. Although others have attended, every ice dance medal awarded since the competition began in 1999 has gone to Americans or Canadians, with 30 won by Team USA skaters, including 10 of the 18 golds.

That tradition continued Friday afternoon as the U.S. placed two teams on the podium for an unprecedented third year, though it was Canada taking top honors at the figure skating Olympic test event in the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, South Korea.

Two-time Olympic medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir emerged as the victors, but American duos Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates each earned their fourth Four Continents medals.

“We performed the way that we wanted to at this point and we’re excited about the work that we can put in going into the world championships,” Alex Shibutani said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “These are definitely our strongest two programs so far this season, and it’s nice to execute everything technically and artistically the way we’ve practiced both programs.”

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After Thursday’s short dance, Virtue and Moir led the field with a score of 79.75. The 2010 Olympic champions and 2014 silver medalists returned to competition this season after not having competed since the Sochi Olympics.

The Shibutanis, the reigning Four Continents champions, were second with 76.59 points, and right behind them were 2014 Olympians Chock and Bates, only 1.92 points back and gunning for a third straight medal after back-to-back silvers. But the third American team, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, was fourth at 73.79, less than a point away from knocking someone off the podium.

Chock and Bates were first on the ice in the final free dance group and received a 110.91 for a total score of 185.58. Hubbell and Donohue were next, needing to add four points to their season best 107.81 to take the lead, but they mustered only a 107.03, which ranked sixth in the free dance. That secured no worse than bronze for Chock and Bates and left Hubbell and Donohue in the precarious position of hoping for a mistake from one of the event’s top two teams to preserve a podium finish.

“I made two pretty costly mistakes, both in level and in GOE (Grade of Execution),” Donohue said. “The overall performance was pretty good, but not as strong as we’ve been practicing at home. It was a little more reserved. But we know there’s a lot this program has to offer and we’re going to find it.”

The Shibutanis responded with a season best free dance score of 115.26 for an total of 191.85 to secure their fourth Four Continents medal, but two-time world champions Virtue and Moir showed they are back to form, closing the evening with a season best of their own to claim their third Four Continents title with an overall score of 196.95.

The Shibutanis and Chock and Bates both earned medals for the third straight year, the first time any nation has double medaled in ice dance at three consecutive Four Continents. U.S. ice dancers now have recorded double medal performances 12 times in the event’s 19-year history.

“I’m so proud of how we handled this entire week,” Maia Shibutani said. “It was really thrilling competing in the Olympic venue and the two performances we did this week were a great preview to really test what it could be like a year from now.”

All three American teams were excited to skate in the venue that will host the Olympic competition in one year’s time.

“I really love this venue,” Chock said. “It has a very good energy and everything is so well placed. The people have been really nice. It’s just all good things from here.”

“It’s like a dream come true to be able to perform a bit of a simulation of all our hopes,” Hubbell said. “Our goal coming into this, of course, was to skate how we always do in practice, but also to really enjoy the moment and take everything in. This is the Olympic venue.”

Attention now turns to preparations for the world championships, scheduled for March 29-April 2 in Helsinki, Finland.

“We have a long time before worlds now, so I’d imagine there will be some strategic tweaking here and there with both programs,” Bates noted. “I think most of our attention will be on our footwork, where we didn’t get levels today. We got Level 3s yesterday, so there’s room for improvement. That will be our main focus.”