Wearing a gold-and-silver sequined dress with flapper-esque fringe and a black tails tuxedo, ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates took the ice ready to make a statement in the short dance. In the fun, fast-paced Finnstep, they displayed personality and chemistry with every turn and twizzle, impressing the Friday afternoon crowd at TD Garden with a routine skated to strains of Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” As soon as Chock and Bates struck their final pose, their expressions confirmed that it was a special performance. Bates raised his arms emphatically and shouted “Let’s Go” in an unchoreographed show of emotion.
“I got pretty excited at the end there,” said Bates. “I didn’t really mean for that to come out, but sometimes, when the stakes are high, the emotions run high as well. I was just really thrilled with the performance and proud of Maddie.”
A couple of days earlier in practice, Chock crashed shoulders-first into the boards. The loud thud it created was more reminiscent of a hockey hit. Initially, Bates said he was “really, really worried because it was not the way you want to start the week” and that “it was really fortunate it wasn’t worse.” Chock suffered only some shoulder soreness and joked after the short dance “that the boards are definitely in worse shape than I am.”
“We’re really happy with how we skated today,” said Chock, 21, from Novi, Mich. “It was a lot of fun to be out there. We could feel the energy of the crowd, we just let it be a benefit to us.”
The judges rewarded Chock and Bates with a score of 73.41 for their short dance, placing the duo second overall behind reigning world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Before they took the ice, the pair’s coach, Igor Shpilband said, “Skate to win,” because, as Bates said, “he wants us to be pushing upwards and toward Meryl and Charlie.”
Entering Saturday’s free dance, Chock and Bates appear poised for an Olympic berth. And that is a very big leap for the couple that came together in July 2011.
Prior to teaming with Chock, Bates went to the 2010 Vancouver Games with Emily Samuelson and finished 11th. But in September 2010, coming down from a lift, Samuelson hit Bates with her skate blade. Bates suffered a completely lacerated left Achilles’ tendon, forcing the ice dancers to miss the 2010-11 season. Samuelson and Bates ended their partnership in June 2011, putting Bates at a career crossroads.
“Definitely the injury I sustained in 2010 was difficult to overcome,” said Bates, who’s from Ann Arbor, Mich. “Things have changed quite a bit in my skating career since then, but my experience with that has given me a great respect [for being able to skate]. I’m very grateful.
“As an athlete it’s easy to take things for granted, the opportunities we have. But once your health is taken away, you really feel it. Looking back now, I’m not glad that it happened, but it led to a series of events that led me to skate with Maddie and be here trying to take a shot at another Olympic team.”
Fortunately for the injured and partner-less Bates, another Michigan-based skater, Chock, was auditioning partners. Chock looked at a couple of other men in her search, but Bates seemed the obvious choice. For his part, Bates considered only Chock.
“I didn’t try out with any other girls,” said Bates. “I knew I wanted to skate with Maddie. I remember saying to her that my ultimate goal was to make the Sochi team and that I wanted to do it with her. Now, almost three years later, it seems like we have a good shot at it.”
When asked what it was that made him think the 5-foot-2-inch Chock would be the right partner, the 6-1 Bates bent over and jokingly covered Chock’s ears and added: “She’s beautiful. What sets her apart is her look on the ice. Obviously, when we got together, we had different techniques and a big height difference and some things we needed to work out. It took us some time. Our first season together wasn’t up to our standards, but it motivated us to work harder.”
After that first year, the ice dancers progressed quickly, improving their on-ice chemistry. The growing comfort level between Chock and Bates was evident in their short dance.
“I think we got lucky,” said Bates. “I knew I wanted to skate with her, but I didn’t think the relationship would be as good as it is. We have really an ideal relationship in how well we get along together. We love spending time together. We have shared goals and when the pressure is on we skate well together.”