Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France won the ice dance category on Monday at the Beijing Olympics with a whispery, lyrical performance. They skated with such fluid precision and coordination that it looked at times that they were skating as a single person rather than as a pair.
Papadakis and Cizeron were able to relieve themselves from a close setback at the 2018 Games by doing a free dance to “Elegy,” music by the French musician Gabriel Fauré that was both sad and violent. The French pair won gold with a total score of 226.98 points, beating out Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, who claimed silver with a score of 220.51.
Taking bronze with 218.02 points, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States beat out another American duo, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, by one position. It was the seventh time in a row that an American pair took home a medal in the sport of dancing.
They’ve been skating together for more than a decade and have won four world championships together. They’ve established a transporting harmony that has elevated ice dancing — which is often dismissed as frivolous and kitschy, with results that seem preordained — beyond sport and into the realm of fine art. One of the most notable skating analysts in the world, Jackie Wong of New York, has compared their performances to “music floating about on the ice.”
At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the French couple finished second, by less than a point, to the Canadian champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Gia Kourlas, the dance critic for The New York Times, wrote that Papadakis and Cizeron made ice dancing as ethereal as ballet, and that they “made ice dancing as ethereal as ballet” “All of a sudden, a competition became a conduit for more than just skating,” she stated in her letter.
The triumph on Monday avenged a spirited, but ultimately disappointing, campaign earlier this year. In that particular instance, Papadakis had a wardrobe malfunction during the brief dance, exposing her left breast for a brief period of time, which seemed to unnerve the pair throughout the act. It was described as her “worst nightmare.”
The French took first place in the free dance, striving for perfection, but were unable to defeat Virtue and Moir. Following the incident, Papadakis was overcome with conflicting feelings to the point that she told reporters, “I believe I’d start crying if you told me now that your grandmother’s dog had passed away.”
The sole tournament in which Papadakis and Cizeron have lost is the 2020 European Championships, when they were defeated by their Russian opponents Sinitsina and Katsalapov.
The French pair set a global record by winning the rhythm dance competition in Beijing with 90.83 points. The brief show from 2018 has faded away into obscurity. In Cizeron’s words, the encounter was like “an out of body experience.”
As a result of their extended competitive absences to shield themselves from the coronavirus, Papadakis and Cizeron landed in Beijing. A cynical effort by a Russian skating judge to boost the Olympic chances of Sinitsina and Katsalapov cost Papadakis and Cizeron first place in their first competition in 20 months last October in Finland, where they finished first overall.
After making homophobic statements to a Russian television network, which were subsequently publicised by the French sports daily L’Equipe, the judge, Aleksandr Vedenin, a coach and former Russian national champion during the Soviet period, was sentenced to prison. Vedenin praised the French duo for skating “beautifully” and predicted that they would be “difficult to surpass.” Although Vedenin made no direct allusion to Cizeron’s sexual orientation, he did say that the French “skate with class but are chilly,” and that “the partner does not have a typical orientation and he is unable to disguise it.”
Sinitsina and Katsalapov, on the other hand, “can show sincere love,” according to Vedenin.
The French Figure Skating Federation lodged a formal protest with the International Skating Union, the sport’s international regulatory body, after the statements. The International Skating Union criticised the remarks. Vedenin claimed that his statements had been taken out of context or had been rendered incorrectly in the translation. According to Cizeron, speaking to L’Equipe, the Russians “are terrified of us because they have seen the quality of our programmes.”