Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 5, 2018 in San Jose, Calif.
Everything has been different this season for Olympic ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates. They moved to Montreal from Detroit, joining the star-studded training camp coached by Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer. They missed most of the season as Chock rehabilitated from injury.
Now, as they head into the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, in their hometown of Detroit this month, they are eager to show off what those changes have brought to their skating.
“Our main goal is to get people excited about our skating again, as much as we are,” Chock said on a conference call with reporters this week. “We feel such a newfound inspiration and passion for skating, and we're really excited to share that with everyone this season.”
Their Olympic season was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Chock competed through injury, and during the warm-up for the short dance in PyeongChang she reinjured her ankle. In the free dance, Chock and Bates’ skates hit each other as they tried to turn a spin into a lift, and they both fell to the ice. After finishing a half point away from the gold medal at the tight U.S. championships just a month before, they came in ninth place at the Olympics.
Chock’s injury required surgery, which took longer to rehabilitate than expected. The time off the ice helped them remember just what they loved about their sport in the first place.
“So often we take things we love for granted, and for me, I think skating was one of those things,” Chock said. “I had gotten into a routine and I was going to go to the rink, I was going to go train, go home, recover, and since I've been off and I've had a good long chance to miss skating, when I came back it was so much more joy. I felt almost like I was relearning things for the first time, like when I was a little girl and I was skating for the first time, and everything was exciting and new. Of course it was a bit frustrating, because I wasn't able to go 100 percent right away.”
After years of working with Igor Shpilband, Chock and Bates are now working with the same coaches who handle world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, as well as U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.
“Things can get stagnant after a while, and for us, we had been training in Michigan, for me for my entire life, and for Maddie, for 13 years,” Bates said. “We needed a change to feel reinvigorated for the next four-year cycle. There's something special going on in the camp in Montreal. You see the success they've had, especially at the Olympics. We knew that if we could move there, that would really be the place that would spark our passion again, and give us the kind of daily competition we were craving.”
Figure skating seasons have a natural rhythm. Starting in September, skaters head to smaller competitions to get their feedback on new programs, followed by the ISU Grand Prix series in the late fall, with a short break until nationals in January, followed by the major championships in the coming weeks and months. This schedule allows skaters to get to know their programs, work out any kinks and make changes if the program is falling flat before trying to make the world team.
With Chock and Bates, their first competition of the year was in Poland earlier this month. Changing the schedule means they had to change their goals.
“It was difficult to sort of recalibrate and change the goal to just be at nationals,” Bates said. “That changed our perspective. Our goal has changed from in the past to maybe being more results-oriented. To now know we're on more of a long-term path, more of a three-year plan, and so for us now, we're just starting.”
They’ll have plenty of competition at nationals. While Maia and Alex Shibutani, the brother-sister duo who took second at the 2018 nationals and bronze at the Olympics, aren’t competing this season, Hubbell and Donohue won every grand prix event they competed, including the Grand Prix Final. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who also train in Montreal, won the NHK Trophy and qualified for the Grand Prix Final.
With their eyes on the 2022 Olympics, Chock and Bates are focused on showing off their new programs, particularly their free dance, which features Michael Bublé’s “Fever” and Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love.”
“Our main reason for picking this, and how we're portraying it, is to show that we can dance, and we want to have fun, and we want to make people have the feeling that they want to dance to it as well,” Chock said. “For us, dance is such an important part of our lives, obviously, we're ice dancers, so we really wanted that to be a big part in our program this season.”
Maggie Hendricks is based in Chicago and has covered Olympic sports for more than 10 years for USA Today and Yahoo Sports. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.