BEIJING — Madison Chock and Evan Bates lingered in the mixed zone after speaking with reporters Monday, watching on a nearby TV screen as Karen Chen took the ice.
“And it is!” Chock whispered as Chen landed one jump. Bates wrapped her in a hug after another. As Chen froze at the end of her long program, overwhelmed by emotion, the two veteran ice dancers clapped from the mixed zone.
The silver medal was officially theirs.
On a rollercoaster final day of the team figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, it was Chock, Bates and later Chen who sealed the deal on the Americans’ silver medal – the best performance in the short history of the team event. The US previously won bronze in both 2014 and 2018.
“We’ve been lucky enough to sit in the box at every one of those events. And this year, knowing that we’d get the chance to participate, was a big deal to us,” Bates said.
“(We knew) that we have an opportunity to inspire the next generation of American skaters, with what we do here. Because let’s be honest – (there are) so many new eyes, so many new viewers to our sport at this event. That’s what makes it so unique.”
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The Russian Olympic Committee, which entered as the favorite, won gold in the team event in dominant fashion, while Japan took the bronze.
For the Americans, a team silver medal is about as strong a result as could have reasonably expected – even if they might have had an outside chance at gold just a few days earlier. Fueled in part by Nathan Chen’s brilliant short program, they led the team standings after Day 1 of competition.
By Day 3, however, the Russians had pulled away and the US found itself deadlocked with Japan in second, with just two more events to go: The free dance and women’s long program.
As the captains of the US team, Chock and Bates admitted they knew the stakes when they took the ice in the penultimate event of the competition.
“We were very aware of what was going on. We were in the team box watching all of the events,” Chock said. “But that doesn’t change what we do when we get on the ice.”
Chock and Bates’ long program has an outer space theme, with Chock portraying an alien and Bates an astronaut, set to music from Daft Punk. And, at a time when they needed it most, they delivered a season-best performance, winning the event and re-constructing their lead on Japan.
The ice dance victory also eased the pressure a bit for Chen, who redeemed herself after falling in the short program the previous day.
“Weirdly, I felt quite calm,” Chen said. “It’s definitely hard to just come back after a hard skate, but for some reason I just felt very determined and very focused on what my job is. And I delivered just that.”
All told, nine of the 16 American skaters competing individually at the Beijing Games also contributed in the team event, and will receive silver medals.
All but one of them were able to celebrate the achievement on the ice Monday; Vincent Zhou was notably absent after testing positive for COVID-19. It is unclear if he will be able to compete in the men’s short program, which will take place Tuesday.
“Team USA has always been strong, but certainly this group of athletes – we’ve grown up together,” ice dancer Madison Hubbell said. “So to come together in a different way, a more supportive way – and especially with our training mates Madison and Evan, to be able to accomplish this together has been really touching. And I know that it’s something that will be one of our highlights.” in our career.”
A reporter asked Bates if, given the Americans’ hot start, the silver medal felt bittersweet somehow – like a missed opportunity to possibly upset the Russians. He said no.
“We’re celebrating silver,” Bates said. “Winning a silver medal at the Olympic Games is an incredible achievement, and the fact that we all get a silver medal, the whole team — I’m so happy. I’m so happy.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism