Le Pays De France - Record-breaking rhythm puts French ice dancing duo on track for gold

Paris -
Record-breaking rhythm puts French ice dancing duo on track for gold
Record-breaking rhythm puts French ice dancing duo on track for gold

Record-breaking rhythm puts French ice dancing duo on track for gold

French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron made a commanding start to their quest for Olympic gold on Saturday, breaking their own world record to place top in rhythm dance.

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The five-time European and four-time world champions, who are chasing their first Games title after coming second in 2018 when a wardrobe malfunction disrupted their performance, scored 90.83.

Dancing to John Legend in matching sheer burgundy, the French duo's fluid, fast choreography and technical tightness saw them edge their closest rivals, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.

"It was amazing, it was kind of an out-of-body experience," said Cizeron. "Every second was so slow, but we enjoyed every second."

The Russians came second with 88.85 with a tongue-in-cheek performance to striptease staple "You Can Leave Your Hat On".

They are the reigning European and world champions after Papadakis and Cizeron skipped those competitions due to Covid concerns so this is the first time the pairs have faced off in a major competition for over two years.

"When it comes to competition we have 17 years of experience together to lean on, and that's what we did tonight," said Cizeron.

"We have a lot of things to think about," said Katsalapov. "We don't usually think about the points, judges, teams we're competing with. Today's performance was really good and very clean."

Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue placed third ahead of compatriots Madison Chock and Evan Bates, whose compelling Billie Eilish programme was marred by a slip-up from Chock.

- Waacking on ice -

The theme for the rhythm dance event was "street style", a broad one that could include types of dance like hip hop, funk or jazz.

"We tried different kind of dances and we started doing some waacking dance," said Papadakis. "We worked with a specialist and we fell in love with it."

Waacking, a form of dance usually set to disco and characterised by quick-moving arm movements and striking poses, emerged on the west coast of the United States in underground gay clubs in the 1970s.

The theme brought an eclectic range of music and costumes out onto the ice -- Madonna, Britney Spears and George Michael all made an appearance, as did a fuschia leopard print jacket, a shimmering disco-ball-like dress and Batman villains The Joker and Harley Quinn.

Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who came sixth dancing to an Elton John medley, showed up in matching fluorescent orange unitards complete with crystals, flared sleeves and multicoloured feathered shoulders.

- Valieva 'strong girl' -

The figure skating competition at the Beijing Games has been overshadowed by a doping scandal involving Russia's Kamila Valieva, who is just 15 and was favourite for gold in the women's individual event.

With her coaching team under scrutiny, Valieva's main teacher Eteri Tutberidze appeared briefly rinkside on Saturday.

Checking her phone frequently, she was there to cheer on her daughter Diana Davis -- who placed 14th -- and left immediately afterwards.

Valieva's right to compete will be ruled on by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with a decision due Monday.

"It's bad for everyone because such a situation around sports is really bad, but I hope everything will be good around Kamila and around our team," said Katsalapov.

His partner Sinitsina added: "She's a strong girl. I told her to calm down, even if it's a hard situation right now."