The ice dance event concluded yesterday at the winter olympics. There was a lot of amazing and inspiring skating, and there were some odd and unexpected occurrences that quite possibly altered the final placements of teams in the competition.
The first came during the short dance, when French skater Gabriella Papadakis’ halter dress neck strap broke. It had been both fastened and sewn closed prior to taking the ice, and somehow it was knocked loose very early in the program. Papadakis and her partner, Guillaume Cizeron continued with their skate, and did very well, and were understandably a bit more cautious than usual given the precarious nature of her dress. They finished that segment in second place, with a very respectable score, but a bit below what might have been anticipated.
Last night, during the free dance, they had no costume malfunctions, and skated a stunningly beautiful and artistic program to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. They set yet another world record high score with that program, and they finished second overall to the Canadian team of Virtue and Moir. We will never know what the outcome might have been had the costume malfunction not occurred, as most observers of skating thought the contest between these top two teams could have gone either way. Sad for the younger French team, at their first Olympics, and thrilling for the Canadians, at their third.
Two US teams also had their own heartbreaking events yesterday. The three US teams entered in the ice dance are closely matched in terms of skills and performance ability. Each team has been national champion, and at US nationals this year, and the Grand Prix final last December, the teams finished within a point of each other. While it was clear that barring major disaster, the teams from France and Canada would finish first and second, order to be determined, it was also very possible that the next 3 places could go to the US teams.
Well, it didn’t quite go that way. Madison Chock and Evan Bates were the first to skate for the US. They were skating beautifully, to John Lennon’s Imagine, when on a spin, their skates touched each other, and down they both went. Heartbreaking. Falls don’t happen very often in ice dance, and this seemed quite the fluke. They lost all the value for the spin that didn’t happen, and an additional 2 points were deducted for the fall. Their score was more than ten points lower than their best for that program, and they finished the event in 9th place. Respectable, and nothing close to the bronze medal that was a realistic possibility.
The next US team to skate was Maia and Alex Shibutani, aka the “ShibSibs”. They skated beautifully, and did have the skate of their dreams. They were in first place for 10 minutes until the French team skated, and they finished in third place, and will leave the Olympics with two bronze medals, one each from the team and ice dance competitions.
The final US team to skate was Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They are the current US champions, they were in third place after the short program, a few hundredths of a point ahead of the Shibutanis. They were ready for this, and for this to be their moment. They were skating pretty well, when near the end of their program, Zach briefly lost his balance while pivoting on his knees. His hand touched down, it counted as a fall, and the team finished in fifth. Again, that’s darn good, but if you were that close to a medal, it feels bad. Donahue was quoted as saying: “I’ve never missed that, I’m a billion for a billion on those in practice.”
Skaters often remind each other that ice is slippery. One is moving on that slippery surface with what is essentially a knife blade attached to each foot. While some of the events above were surprising and certainly disappointing for the skaters involved, for me, I remain amazed and appreciative of all that each of these skaters is able to do on the ice, creating magic and possibility, inviting us to share a piece of their journeys. Life, like ice, is slippery, and it rarely goes the way we anticipate. Once we recover from our disappointment from the slips and falls, perhaps we can each enjoy a little of the magic of the unexpected.