The present and future of ice dancing
Three-time world champions and four-time European champions, French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron had to settle for silver behind Canadian duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir at PyeongChang 2018. With age still very much on their side, the world record holders for the short dance, free dance and combined points totals are already planning their bid for gold at Beijing 2022.
A proud tradition
French figure skating has produced many a successful ice dance pair since the 1990s, led by 1991 world champions and Olympic silver medallists Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay.
The list also includes Gwendal Peizerat and Marina Anissina (2000 world champions and Salt Lake 2002 Olympic champions); Isabelle Delobbel and Olivier Schoenfelder (2008 world champions) and Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat (two-time World Championship medallists and double European champions.)
Aged only 22 and 23 respectively, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are well on the way to achieving even more than their illustrious predecessors, having already won three world and four continental titles in dominating the international scene since Sochi 2014.
As Cizeron explained: “Even though we’ve only just started our careers and we’re still pretty young, we’ve gone some way already to making our mark on skating. I hope there’s a lot more to come too.”
Born on 10 May 1995 in Clermont-Ferrand, Papadakis first took to the ice at an early age thanks to her mother Catherine, a figure skating coach. Twenty-four-year-old Cizeron also received an early introduction to the sport through his father Marc, president of the Clermont Auvergne Ice Dance Club.
It was Papadakis’ mother, the pair’s first coach, who suggested they start skating together when Gabriella was around nine. The two quickly developed a strong rapport, training hard during their school years. “It comes naturally when you’re 12 and 13, and our first aim was to become champions of France,” explained Papadakis. “And when we took part in our first international competition, we wanted to finish first,” added Cizeron.
A sign of things to come
After excelling on the international stage at junior level and finishing second at the 2013 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Milan, despite Papadakis suffering from an ankle injury, the French pair made their senior debut in the 2013/14 season.
After placing 13th at their first Worlds in March 2014 they then relocated to Montreal to train. In November that same year they took their maiden major win at the ISU Grand Prix Cup of China in Shanghai and then lifted the Trophée de France in Paris.
Expressing their lofty ambitions, Papadakis said: “We want to innovate, to do things no one’s ever done before and take skating in a new direction.”
World and european doubles
At the 2015 European Championships in Stockholm (SWE), Papadakis and Cizeron scored highest in both the short programme and the free skate to land their first continental title. Two months later in Shanghai (CHN) the French pair added a maiden world title. Performing a stunning free skate to the sound of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, they scored 112.34 points to climb up from fourth after the short and take the gold.
“It was an intensely pleasurable experience, which was exactly what we wanted to achieve,” said Cizeron at the time. “We are only at the start of our careers and we weren’t really expecting this. Even we are amazed.”
They retained both titles in 2016, in Bratislava (SVK) in January and Boston (USA) in March, again thanks to outstanding performances in the free skate.
In Montreal, Papadakis and Cizeron trained with Canadian 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Returning from a two-year sabbatical, in December 2016 Virtue and Moir got the better of the French duo at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo (JAP), before beating them once again in the final of the ISU Grand Prix in Marseille (FRA). The defeats were the French pair’s first since the 2014/15 season.
Papadakis and Cizeron were back on top of the podium in January 2017 in Ostrava (CZE), winning their third straight European title by some distance over the Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte and the Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev.
Two months later, however, Virtue and Moir beat them to gold again at the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, giving the French pair plenty to ponder ahead of the Olympic season.
The main contenders for Olympic gold at PyeongChang 2018, the two pairs largely avoided each other on the ISU circuit in the lead-up to the Games. Papadakis and Cizeron became the first duo to break the 200-point barrier at the Cup of China on 4 November 2017 and two weeks later scored a world-record 120.58 in the free dance at the Internationaux de France.
On 9 December the Canadians and French eventually met at the Grand Prix in Nagoya (JAP), where Papadakis and Cizeron set a new combined points world record of 202.16, topping the standings in the short and the free ahead of Virtue and Moir, who totalled 199.86 points.
Olympic runners-up and world champions
The Olympic showdown between ice dancing’s leading two teams began with Papadakis suffering a problem with her costume during the short programme, which ended with the French trailing their Canadian rivals by a point. It was a gap Papadakis and Cizeron were unable to close in the free, despite posting a new world record of 123.25 points. The reason for that was that Virtue and Moir turned in an equally sparkling performance to clinch their second Olympic title with a world record points total of 206.07, with the French just behind them on 205.28.
“We gave our all and I’m happy with what we achieved,” said Cizeron. “It was almost perfect and we can be proud of ourselves.”
A month later in Milan (ITA), Papadakis and Cizeron won their third world title, reaching new heights in the process, thanks to world records in the short (83.73 points), the free (123.47 points) and overall (207.20 points), putting them well clear of the USA’s Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.
“This isn’t revenge, because Virtue and Moir weren’t here,” said Cizeron afterwards. “Obviously we wanted to end the season on a high note, especially after what happened at the Games, where we didn’t get the medal we were looking for,” added Papadakis.
Next stop Beijing
The French pair are looking to add to their extensive collection of medals, already planning for their next bid for Olympic gold. “We’ll go again in four years’ time,” said Papadakis. “We’ll need to keep developing our style, though we’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do yet because we were focusing so hard on the Olympic season. We still have a lot of passion, though, and we still want to keep doing new things.
Cizeron added: “We’re going to try to keep moving forward with our dancing, with concepts, and keep trying to do daring things and take ice dancing in a modern and fresh direction.”