Chock and Bates overcome illness to win 5th U.S. title

By Maura Sullivan Hill, Team FSO contributing writer
Photos by Robin Ritoss
(Photos from the rhythm dance – free dance photos coming soon!)

Heading into the 2024 U.S. Championships in Columbus, it was basically a given that Madison Chock and Evan Bates would win their fifth title. But on the afternoon of the free dance, that suddenly became uncertain. Word starting spreading online and around the arena that Chock and Bates were sick, and considering withdrawing. They took the ice for the six-minute warmup, still not sure if they’d compete.

But they decided to go for it, taking the ice as the final skaters in the event and doing just enough to capture their fifth U.S. title.

“I think Evan and I have always had a lot of determination and willpower. We thought, ‘Would we regret not going for it and just trying our best today?’ When the answer to that question was yes, we were like, ‘Ok, let’s make it happen. Let’s step out there and just give it all we’ve got,’” Chock said in the press conference. “We did that today and I’m really proud of Evan for pushing through because I know [he was] especially not feeling well today. I’m really proud that [he] did it. If we can do this, then we can do anything.”

Chock and Bates made an abbreviated appearance at the press conference, both wearing masks, and then left to rest before boarding a plane to China for the Four Continents Championships, which begin on Tuesday, Jan. 30 in Shanghai. (Editor’s Note: Chock and Bates have since withdrawn from Four Continents)

This win was the third consecutive at the U.S. Championships for the duo. Their total score of 215.92 was much closer to their competitors than it would have been if Chock and Bates were at full strength. Last year, they earned 229.75 points en route to their fourth title.

Bates struggled on two of their twizzles and they skated deliberately, at times a bit slowly, throughout the program. Chock said that her partner started feeling under the weather the evening of the rhythm dance, and that she was unable to get out of bed on Friday, the day between the rhythm dance and free dance. “If the competition had been yesterday, I don’t think I would have made it to the rink,” Chock said.

With all that uncertainty backstage, it would have been easy for the rest of the skaters to get distracted by the potential withdrawal and what that might mean for their chances. But silver medalists Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko and bronze medalists Emily Bratti and Ian Somerville both delivered solid, emotional programs to get on the podium.

Carreira and Ponomarenko, last year’s bronze medalists, earned a season’s best score of 126.85 for their free dance. They beat Chock and Bates by three points in the free dance, and only trailed them by five with their total score of 210.04.

Carreira and Ponomarenko were in second after the rhythm dance, which was a surprise to some who viewed them behind competitors Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, who finished 6th at the World Championships last year, to Carreira and Ponomarenko’s 10th place finish. Carreira and Ponomarenko looked focused and intense during their free skate, which they said is about the evolution of love to obsession.

They knew Chock and Bates weren’t feeling well, but “it didn’t change the job we had to do,” Carreira said. “I’m really happy we stayed focused and were able to accomplish that.” Ponomarenko looked emotional in the kiss and cry as they got their scores.

Emily Bratti and Ian Somerville moved up from last year’s fifth place finish to third in Columbus. They appeared both surprised and delighted by their scores.

“Coming into this competition, we didn’t really know how it was going to play out, just because it’s such a competitive field, but we knew that we were capable of being on the podium, and it was a really big goal for us,” Bratti said in the press conference. “And I think, especially after the rhythm dance, we got a lot of motivation and confidence that we were capable of doing it. And yeah, I mean, it was definitely a surprise for us.”

Her partner agreed: “Yeah, you could probably see, it was definitely a surprise,” Somerville chuckled at the press conference. “But we love our programs this year, and we feel like we’ve put in so much effort into all the details and musicality of everything. So we knew that if we just go out there and do what we do every day, we had a good chance of coming out successfully. And I think we were just able to focus and keep ourselves locked into each other and not focusing too much on the other teams.”

Their free dance, set to a dramatic Celie Dion song, “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” was a contrast to the upbeat programs they’ve shown the past two years. They said it tells the story of a toxic relationship.

Green and Parsons, who won the silver medal last year, finished with the pewter medal. After their third-place rhythm dance, Parsons said in the mixed zone, “This is the most prepared we’ve been for any competition this season.”

They changed their rhythm dance after Lombardia Trophy and before the Grand Prix, so this was the most consecutive training time they had with it. But in the free skate, Parsons bobbled on a twizzle, and their final choreographic dance lift was shaky.

“It was a disappointing skate today, to put it very bluntly,” Parsons said. “We know we can do a lot better than that, and unfortunately that just wasn’t our day. So now it’s just resetting and working as hard for China, because we’ll be able to put out a much better skate there.”

Green and Parsons will go straight to Four Continents, along with Chock and Bates and Carreira and Ponomarenko.

U.S. Figure Skating named Chock and Bates, Carreira and Ponomarenko and Bratti and Somerville to the team for the World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal in March. Chock and Bates will look to defend their 2023 World title, and have been undefeated in competition since the 2023 U.S. Championships.

Stay tuned for more updates from Columbus in our 2024 U.S. Championships Hub!