Ice Dancing: See Photo Highlights of the Medal Routines

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Feb. 13, 2022, 11:37 p.m. ET

Feb. 13, 2022, 11:37 p.m. ETImageGabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France after winning the ice dance in Beijing.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

With a whispery, lyrical performance, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France won the ice dancing competition on Monday at the Beijing Olympics, skating with such flowing precision and unison that they appeared at times to be skating as a single person instead of a couple.

Performing a free dance to “Elegy,” music both somber and turbulent by the French composer Gabriel Fauré, Papadakis and Cizeron liberated a narrow defeat at the 2018 Games. The French couple won gold with 226.98 total points over Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia, who took silver with 220.51 points.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States took bronze with 218.02 points, one spot ahead of another American team, Madison Chock and Evan Bates. It was the fifth consecutive Olympics that an American couple has won a dance medal.

Having skated together for more than a decade, Papadakis, 26, and Guillaume, 27, have won four world championships, establishing a transporting harmony that has elevated ice dancing — often dismissed as frivolous and kitschy, with results that seem preordained — beyond sport into art. Jackie Wong, a prominent skating analyst from New York, has likened their performances to “music floating around the ice.”

During the 2018 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. “Suddenly, a competition is a conduit for more than skating,” she wrote. “It’s a window into another space and time: eerie, quiet, floating.”

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesCredit…Doug Mills/The New York TimesCredit…Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times

Monday’s victory redeemed their stirring but ultimately disappointing performance in 2018. In that event, Papadakis experienced a wardrobe malfunction in the short dance, leaving her left breast briefly exposed, which seemed to unnerve the couple during the routine. She called it her “worst nightmare.”

The French won the free dance, aspiring to perfection, but could not overcome Virtue and Moir. Afterward, Papadakis was left so full of contradictory emotions that she told reporters, “I think I’d start to cry if you tell me now that the dog of your grandmother died.”

Since then, Papadakis and Cizeron have lost only one competition, the 2020 European championships, where they were edged out by their Russian rivals Sinitsina and Katsalapov.

The French couple won the rhythm dance in Beijing with 90.83 points, a world record. The short program from 2018 dissolved into memory. Cizeron said the moment felt like “an out of body experience.”

Papadakis and Cizeron arrived in Beijing after having taken long competitive absences to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Last October, in their first competition in 20 months, in Finland, Papadakis and Cizeron took first place but faced what appeared to be a cynical attempt by a Russian skating judge to promote the Olympic prospects of Sinitsina and Katsalapov.

The judge, Aleksandr Vedenin, a coach and former Russian national champion in the Soviet era, made homophobic remarks to a Russian television network that were later reported by the French sports publication L’Equipe. Vedenin said that the French couple had skated “beautifully” and would “be hard to beat.” But, in reference to Cizeron, who is gay, Vedenin said the French “skate with class but are cold,” adding, “The partner doesn’t have a traditional orientation and he can’t hide it.”

By contrast, Vedenin said, Sinitsina and Katsalapov “can express true love.”

The French Figure Skating Federation filed a complaint with the sport’s international governing body, the International Skating Union, which condemned the remarks. Vedenin said his words had been taken out of context or translated imprecisely. Cizeron told L’Equipe that the Russians “are afraid of us because they saw our programs are good.”

Four months later, the quality of the French performances was unsurpassed in Beijing.

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