NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) - When French pair Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron skated to a new world record at last year’s Grand Prix Final, their excellence not only started to seem almost routine but it set the stage for an ice dance showdown at the Olympics
Besides setting a fourth new mark in a little over a month, they also ended the winning streak of world champion Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, two-time Olympians whose comeback had seen them remain unbeaten for more than a year.
Time and again, the youthful pair in their early 20’s, set one record before beating it again just weeks later.
“We’re very happy about that,” Papadakis told a news conference after the 2017 Grand Prix Final in Japan, when they set another record of 202.16 points for total score.
“We hope that’s going to continue until the Olympics.”
Until last November, no ice dance team — not even the venerable Virtue and Moir — had scored above 200 at all. Now Papadakis and Cizeron have managed the feat on three occasions.
“We have a special routine that we made up through the years,” Cizeron told a small group of reporters after their Grand Prix victory.
“We get off the ice after a warmup, we re-tie our skates, just walk around. We rarely sit and we usually just walk holding each other’s hands,” he added.
“We close our eyes, we really try to get into that bubble that makes the magic come out, and then we go on the ice and they call our names. And that’s it.”
The 22-year-old Papadakis, the daughter of a coach, began skating at three and was paired with the 23-year-old Cizeron before they entered their teens. The match was suggested by her mother, who coached them for several years.
Successful but not especially prolific as juniors, the pair really began hitting their stride in 2014-2015, their second senior season, when topping the podium became routine and they picked up their first world championship title.
But disaster struck in August 2015 when they clipped blades during a practise session causing Papadakis to fall on her head, suffering a concussion so serious that one of her coaches said she was wobbly and having trouble putting words together.
In March 2016, when a skate blade left her requiring stitches to her knee, she said she was still having symptoms.
The 2016-2017 season was also uneven. By then they had been based in Montreal for several years and Virtue and Moir were training at the same rink.
“You know, Tessa and Scott came back and they’re amazing skaters, it was a hard thing to deal with. They have so much experience,” Papadakis said.
“It was just a year to learn and to grow. We used that, we used our unsuccessful competitions from last year to learn how to grow out of it, how to become stronger and how to deal with the pressure in a different way.”
So far this season they are undefeated, skating to two Ed Sheeran songs in their sultry short dance routine and an elegiac and passionate free dance to “Moonlight Sonata”.
“The choice was made this summer, we weren’t really sure what piece of music we wanted use and we listened to Beethoven at the rink, pretty randomly,” Papadakis said.
“We both said ‘wow’, I always wanted to skate to this music and so we were like ‘why not? Why not now?’”
Noted for their easy unison on the ice, the two are also known for a number of rituals before competing, including looking into each other’s eyes to feel connected.
“It’s like this is just one big moment,” Cizeron said, referring to the start of any competition.
“It’s just like a bubble and it feels like from that moment to when the programme stops, it’s just one whole moment. We don’t get out of that bubble and that’s what gets us through.”
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by John O'Brien