French ice dancers remain clothed, win silver, but wonder what if?

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — For the second time in two days, Gabriella Papadakis concluded her Olympic ice dance performance in tears.

On Monday, it was out of embarrassment after the clasp behind her neck on the halter-top portion of her costume came undone and she had to skate without coming fully disrobed. She was only partially successful as she was exposed live on international television while performing elaborate spins, lifts and twizzles.

“My worst nightmare,” Papadakis said.

This time, the tears were of joy. Or perseverance. Or relief. Or accomplishment. Or triumph. Or all of the above.

Finishing a near-perfect long dance program that would result in a record-high score, she pressed her forehead against partner Guillaume Cizeron and wept. The team was given a 123.35 for the segment, the highest in Olympic history.

The French wound up winning silver, but only because gold medal winners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir delivered their own excellent performance and held them off, 206.07-205.28. The American sister-brother team of Maia and Alex Shibutani won bronze.

Guillaume Cizeron and Gabriella Papadakis of France react to their score. (REUTERS)
Guillaume Cizeron and Gabriella Papadakis of France react to their score. (REUTERS)

For Papadakis, Tuesday was part profile in courage. She knew that her mishap had become huge news around the world. She knew she was a punchline, an object to be gawked at, a social-media meme.

She knew it was humiliating.

She also knew she needed to skate to the very best of her ability, in a competition where precision is everything and relentless focus is paramount, or years of work and training would be for naught. There was no time for processing what had happened or slowly coming to grips with her new reality. What happened wasn’t her fault.

Ice dancing lacks the major components such as leaps to separate competitors. Instead, success and failure can come down to the slightest of margins, often unidentifiable by fans watching live or at home. Literally nothing can be out of sorts. Certainly not a competitor dwelling on the past or fearing another wardrobe malfunction – her dress this time was far more secure.

Essentially, for Tuesday to matter, Papadakis needed to make Monday not.

When that was accomplished and Papadakis and Cizeron were technically precise and emotionally crowd-pleasing, they held each other in their arms and let out their pent-up feelings.

“I was very emotional,” Papadakis said. “I cannot really put a word on the way I felt. We just delivered an amazing performance at the Olympics. … We couldn’t have skated better. We did our best. Maybe more than our best.”

The French tried to make the most of it. They couldn’t change what had happened. They could try to use it as a rallying cry. If they could manage to finish second after the short program despite Papadakis skating in a broken costume than they figured they were capable of anything.

“It wasn’t easy to get back on the ice today but I think we were ready for whatever after what happened yesterday,” Cizeron said. “We were like, ‘Bring it on. We’ll deal with whatever.’ ”

Their huge score temporarily leapt them into first place and put enormous pressure on Virtue and Moir. The Canadians, who led by 1.74 going into the long skate, said going in that they knew they needed to be perfect themselves to win gold. They delivered, holding off the French to win a gold to go along with a gold in 2010 and a silver in 2014.

The two teams share a coach, train together and are close friends, so there were no outward hard feelings. It doesn’t mean Papadakis and Cizeron won’t forever wonder if they would have taken gold if only that clasp had held and they did a little better on Monday.

“If we had more points yesterday, we would probably be in first place,” Cizeron said. “But that’s sports.”

So, too, is stepping up in the face of adversity and pressure and performing. For that, Gabriella Papadakis is an all-timer of an Olympian. A terrible break, a horrible nightmare, a lingering embarrassment happened. Then she showed why she was here in the first place.

“We are just very happy we managed to move on from yesterday and deliver an amazing performance,” Papadakis said.

“It’s not an easy one,” Cizeron said. “She’s tough.”

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