US figure skaters celebrate gold medal from Beijing Olympics with a touch of bittersweetness

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete in championship ice dance at the U.S. figure skating championships Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Evan Bates sat on a table at the U.S. figure skating championships last weekend, feeling lousy despite having just won a fifth ice dance national title because of a flu bug that nearly kept him from performing with partner Madison Chock.

He felt a lot better — in a lot of ways — by Tuesday morning.

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That's when Bates and Chock awoke to learn they were suddenly Olympic champions. The Court of Arbitration for Sport had ruled a day earlier that Kamilia Valieva of the winning Russian squad would be disqualified following a failed doping test taken ahead of the 2022 Beijing Games, presumably elevating the second-place Americans to first in the team event. But exactly how to allocate the medals was left in the hands of the IOC and the International Skating Union.

That decision, not without a bit of controversy of its own, was delivered about 24 hours later.

“To be honest, I think having insight into what was going to happen was incredibly difficult throughout the entire process,” Bates said Tuesday. “We really had no idea even Sunday night. We were bracing ourselves for news that it was going to be silver.”

The news that it would be gold touched off a stream of celebratory text messages among the nine members of the team.

Among them, only Chock and Bates are still competing.

Nathan Chen, who won individual Olympic gold with his dramatic performance set to music by Elton John, has been focusing on school, though he has yet to officially retire. He also penned a memoir and a children's book, worked in television, and has been active with several philanthropic causes; later this month, he will participate in a celebration of Scott Hamilton's gold medal from the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics while helping to raise money for cancer research.

“This decision is certainly a win for clean sport,” Chen said of the CAS decision during an interview with CNN This Morning on Tuesday. “However, the fact that this happened at all is a win for no one.”

In the case of the Americans, it denied them and everyone else the opportunity to stand on the Olympic podium in Beijing.

Sarah Hirshland, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said plans already are underway to recognize the American team, despite potential appeals by the Russian team, which was dropped to third following Valieva's disqualification, and the Canadian team, which is arguing that the Russians should be DQ'd altogether and its own team given the bronze medal.

Chock said in text messages among Team USA that the preference is to hold a medal ceremony at this year's Paris Olympics.

“That would be our dream scenario,” she said.

It also would give the American team a rare opportunity to reconnect.

Much like Chen, teammate Vincent Zhou turned his attention to school work at Brown. Karen Chen plans to graduate from Cornell next year. Madison Hubbell and ice dance partner Zach Donohue have both gotten married since the Beijing Games — Hubbell to Spanish ice dancer Adrian Diaz and Donohue to Australian dancer Chantelle Kerry.

The pairs team of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who won the world title after the Olympics and took silver last year, are taking this season off from competition. But they have not ruled out competing at the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympics.

“I think the team is very tightly knit,” Bates said, “and this experience has actually brought us closer together. We're the only two still competing, and that just goes to show the lifespan of an Olympic athlete. In most cases, not long, and that makes a two-year wait difficult and challenging. But I think the communication over the last 24 hours has been incredibly celebratory, and a lot of it has been, ‘I love you guys. I love this team.’

“Yes,” Bates said, “the medals are great, but it's more about the bond and friendship. It's an incredible group of athletes. I hope this team will be remembered for how we handled this situation off the ice as well as how we performed on the ice.”


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