There are new world champions in ice dance.
Short dance leaders Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov held onto their lead through the free dance to claim their first world title, holding off a spirited field in the ice dance discipline at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, on Saturday (27 March).
The Canadian duo of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier landed on the world podium for the first time in their careers, scoring a huge 130.98 in the free dance, four points over their previous personal best.
Sinitsina/Katsalapov won with 221.17 points, Hubbell/Donohue then edging out the Canadians, 214.71 to 214.35.
Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates dropped from third to finish in fourth, however, and Sinitsina/Katsalapov's Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSR) teammates Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin placed fifth.
Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy finished sixth.
Sinitsina and Katsalapov's golden moment
Sinitsina and Katsalapov were near speechless after their triumph.
"Actually right now I have no idea what to say," a breathless Katsalapov said after the win. "I left it all on the ice, I am totally empty. This medal means a lot to us and has a huge significance to us. This medal means a lot to us, it's a very dear medal for us. We went through a lot of obstacles towards it, especially this year. It means to us that we can work more and we can still improve."
Sinitsina fought through a battle with Covid-19 in recent months, spending time in the hospital and missing a month of training because of it.
"Yes, it was really a hard time. But it’s all truly behind now. I am feeling great now," she said. "I missed the work and the ice so much, I trained with so much joy, looking into Nikita’s eyes and trusting him and our team. I am just happy to be here and see how this competition unfolded. I am very happy.”
It's the first time an ice dance team from Russia has won at the world championships since 2009, when Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin took gold.
But the FSR team took full advantage of the opportunity in front of them, skating two inspired and emotional programs, and scoring a 133.02 in the free - a personal best - to tally a PB overall score, as well.
The team embraced as their scores come through, pulling into a hug in the 'kiss and cry' as they were announced as first-time world champions.
"This was the performance these two have always had inside of them that’s been waiting to come out," observed Olympic Channel's Meryl Davis, the Olympic ice dance champion from Sochi 2014. "All of the pieces came together today in the most beautiful way. Quality and class throughout that program."
Hubbell/Donohue, Gilles/Poirier look towards Olympic season
While there was satisfaction for the other two medallist teams, they also expressed their hunger for the coming season, in which teams will vie for spots on the Olympic podium.
Hubbell/Donohue won their third consecutive world medal, include second silver in a row.
"There is a little dissatisfaction of not reaching our goal and winning the gold," Hubbell said to reporters. "We accomplished what we wanted to out there, skating that program fearlessly at worlds."
"We're very motivated, very hungry," Donohue added.
Hubbell/Donohue were skating to "Hallelujah", one of a few new programs in a season interrupted by the pandemic.
Gilles/Poirier, meanwhile, kept their popular Joni Mitchell "Both Sides Now" program, a fan favourite. And while it was their first world medal - they aren't stopping there.
"It feels so good. We had a good five or six seasons where we were sixth to eighth at worlds," said Poirier. "We wanted to go into the Olympic season as world medallists and believe we have podium chances [at the Games]."
Davis had this to say on Piper and Paul's free dance: "That was a moment. For years, Piper and Paul have honed a style that’s all their own and it’s quite special to see it all blossom into this. Genuine, emotional and original."
Chock/Bates, other top teams back to building
The disappointment was clear for two-time world medallists Chock and Bates, who sunk from third to fourth after a bobble from Bates on the duo's synchronized Twizzles, Bates earning only a Level 3. He had made a similar mistake at U.S. nationals.
"It's not the way we've been training," Bates said. "That's putting a little extra sting. We have been skating so well between nationals and now. It will be nice for us to go back home and make new material."
"We're excited to go home and build from where we are," added Chock. "We know how we want to push ourselves. We're going to go home and do just that."
It's a competitive dance discipline through and through, with the top six teams all going 200+ on overall scores.
Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson of the U.K. were seventh, Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen of Canada eighth, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the U.S. ninth and Tiffany Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro of FSR 10th.