French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron returned to the global stage for the first time in three years at the 2022 Winter Olympics and quickly reminded the world why they are four-time world champions.
The team that has been together for more than 15 years set a world record score with its Olympic rhythm dance performance.
Papadakis and Cizeron's 90.83 points bested the 90.03 score they earned at the 2019 NHK Trophy, a Grand Prix event held in Japan, which was the previous high score under the current system.
Performing to a John Legend medley, the 2018 Olympic silver medalists -- who are hungry to improve to gold after a four-year wait -- floated flawlessly above the ice with the speed, beauty and originality that have served them well through their lengthy careers. Despite not competing at one of the sport's premier championship events since the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships (after the 2020 worlds were canceled due to the pandemic and then pandemic-related travel issues left them unable to train, causing them to withdraw from the 2021 worlds), they are nearly two points ahead of the field entering the free dance.
"These Olympics are so different from four years ago," Cizeron said. "We are in a very different place. I think with all the experience we've gained we have become more mature. We know better what we are doing, so we are enjoying it better."
The Russian Olympic Committee's Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, who won last year's worlds and are already gold medalists at these Games from the team event, scored 88.85 points with their "You Can Leave Your Hat On"/"Brick House" program and are in second place. They scored 3.8 points higher than their team event rhythm dance performance.
Two American teams, each of whom outscored Sinitsina/Katsalapov in different segments of the team event and were thought to be going for silver in the ice dance competition, follow.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are third with a Janet Jackson medley that earned them a score of 87.13 points. With a personal best score by 0.57, they are in contention for their first ice dance Olympic medal (having taken silver in the team event) at their second, and what they have declared final, Games after finishing fourth at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
"It was just great to have another season's best and exciting performance," Hubbell said.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates are almost three points out of podium position at their third Winter Games as a team (and Bates' fourth overall) after Chock lost an edge during their skate to a Billie Eilish medley. They scored 84.14 points.
"I was obviously disappointed when we saw the scores, it was a bit lower than we hoped," Chock told NBC reporter Andrea Joyce of the score that is 1.88 from their personal best. "We need to look at the protocol and see where we lost some levels. It’s not over yet."