GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came out of retirement to win more Olympic gold.
Only the free dance stands in their way.
The Canadian ice dancers broke their own record for a short program at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Monday, piling up 83.67 points with a harmonious, rock-inspired performance.
That score edged their own record set last year by nearly a point, and left them more than a point ahead of their training partners and biggest rivals, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.
The French couple appeared a bit thrown off by Papadakis’s costume, which came unhooked at the neck during their program. They held things together despite the wardrobe malfunction and scored 81.93 points, and now will rely on their stronger free dance Tuesday to track down the leaders.
U.S. champs Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were third, two-hundredths of a point ahead of their compatriots, Maia and Alex Shibutani. The third American couple, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, was seventh and in medal contention despite an injury that she aggravated during warmups.
Virtue and Moir won Olympic gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, then won silver four years later in Sochi, Russia. They stepped away from competition for two years, the taxing grind of more than 15 years spent working together having taken its toll, but returned to make another Olympic run.
They were nearly unstoppable last season, winning the world championship as if they had never been away, but were upset by Papadakis and Cizeron at the Grand Prix Final in December.
They proved Monday that they’re still the team to beat.
Performing to Latin-infused music by the Rolling Stones, Eagles and Santana, Virtue and Moir were in lock-stop from the moment they stepped on the ice. They received level-four marks across the board, highlighted by their dazzling midline step sequence to open the program, and nailed their rhumba sequence on which they were harshly graded in helping Canada win the team event.
The crowd, relatively sparse compared to other figure skating sessions, roared as the three-time world champions skated off to await their scores. The fans roared again when their record numbers were read, and the longest-tenured ice dance team in Canadian history smiled and hugged.
Papadakis and Cizeron followed them onto the ice and received mostly level-four marks, underscored by their in-step rhumba. The only miscue came on their closing straight line lift, perhaps because they were distracted by her emerald and blue dress revealing a bit too much.
Hubbell and Donohue proved their win last month at nationals, after years of frustration, was no fluke with a dramatic performance dragged down only by a small bobble on their synchronized twizzles.
The Shibutanis, who helped the U.S. win team bronze, overcame a shaky start to their performance with a strong second half, including a breathtaking rotational lift to finish.
Meanwhile, Chock and Bates had to push aside the uncertainty caused by her injury to put together a strong opening performance. Chock has a floating bone fragment in her right foot that she’s dealt with all season, and it caused some pain about 30 seconds before their warmup was complete.
She planned to see a doctor later Monday, but doesn’t expect to miss the free skate.
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