(Photo by Joosep Martinson - ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

Priming for PyeongChang: Six ice dancing pairs you need to know this season

Nowhere is the glitz and glamour of figure skating – not to mention the drama – more apparent than in the ice dance event.

The sport’s entertainment value is undeniable, with competitors magnificently costumed to enhance the dance rhythm they are interpreting or the story they are portraying.

In the previous two Olympic quadrennials, a Canada-U.S. tug of war for ice dance supremacy captivated fans as Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir traded titles with their American archrivals and training mates Meryl Davis and Charlie White.  

Their rivalry shifted the traditional ice dance powerbase from Europe to North America as inspired teammates of the dominant duos ascended the rankings in their wake.

Virtue and Moir prevailed on home soil in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympic Games with Davis and White settling for silver. The couples’ fortunes reversed four years later in Sochi, with the Americans the victors.

Both pairs stepped away from the sport after that 2014 season. Retirements were imagined.

But a year ago, Virtue and Moir decided they weren’t done yet; the call of the Olympic Games and the prospect of winning a second Olympic gold medal were just too compelling to ignore.

With some trepidation, the Canadians waded back into competitive waters and made the bold move to train in Montreal alongside the two-time reigning world champions from France, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

The sport’s newest stars had emerged out-of-the-blue in 2015, mesmerizing fans and judges alike with flawless, spell-binding performances.

When Virtue and Moir re-entered the competition fray last fall they proved to be even better than before, seizing the limelight once again as Davis and White remained on the sidelines. (This summer, the Americans officially declared they are done competing.)

Virtue and Moir danced their way through a superlative 2016-17 season, finishing atop the podium at every turn. Not even the sublime French could better them, although they came close at the 2017 World Championships. The Canadians edged Papadakis and Cizeron for the gold medal by just 2.58 points, but finished 13 points clear of the rest of the field.

Although the 2018 Olympic season is in its infancy and at the risk of prematurely counting those proverbial chickens, it’s hard to imagine any couple other than Virtue and Moir or Papadakis and Cizeron standing atop the Olympic podium come February.  

Still, as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, there are only two sure things in this world. Neither of them is winning Olympic gold.

Chasing the frontrunners is a slew of talented and evenly matched challengers — three American and two more Canadian couples, Italian veterans and a Russian duo or two. All will jockey for podium position as the season progresses, intent on making their mark at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games.

Let the twizzling begin.

The Co-Favorites

#VirtueMoir #20years #XX

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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Canada

Ages: 28, 30

Credentials: Olympic champions in 2010.World champions in 2010, 2012 and 2017. Three World silvers. Seven national titles

Previous Olympic experience: Gold in 2010. Silver in 2014

Free dance music: Moulin Rouge soundtrack

Of note: Began ice dance partnership as children 20 years ago. First North American ice dancers and the youngest couple to win Olympic gold. Daily lives documented for 2014 Olympic season TV series. Earned highest total and short dance scores ever recorded in 2017. Virtue designed her own line of jewelry for Canadian jewelry manufacturer, while Moir is a huge hockey fan.

Follow:  https://twitter.com/tessavirtue   https://twitter.com/scottmoir?lang=en

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, France

Ages: 22, 22

Credentials: World Champions in 2015 and 2016. Three European titles

Previous Olympic experience: none

Free dance music: Moonlight Sonata (unconfirmed)

Of note: Began partnership as kids. Her mom was their coach. They moved to Canada to train in 2014 and rocketed from 13th at 2014 Worlds to 1st in 2015. Papadakis suffered a concussion in 2015, sidelining the couple for four months. They recorded the highest free dance score ever at 2017 Worlds. Cizeron designs their costumes.

Follow: https://twitter.com/gabriellapks   https://twitter.com/guillaumeciz?lang=en

The Challengers

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, USA

Ages: 23, 26

Credentials: World Championship bronze in 2011 and 2017, silver 2016. Two national titles.

Previous Olympic experience: 9th in 2014

Free dance music: Paradise by ColdPlay (unconfirmed)

Of Note:  Sister and brother nicknamed Shib sibs. Began ice dance career in 2004. Undisputed queen and king of the treacherous twizzle turns. Reported to have chosen Coldplay music again after 2016 success with Fix You program. This Olympic season they will be serving as sports mentors to South Korean school kids. Prolific posters on social media. Have official You-tube channel (youtube.com/ShibSibs)

Follow: https://twitter.com/MaiaShibutani   https://twitter.com/AlexShibutani

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Canada

Ages: 28, 30

Credentials: World championship bronze in 2015 and silver in 2014. Grand Prix Final champions 2015 and ‘14. Four Continents champions 2015 and ‘10. Two national titles.

Previous Olympic experience:  7th in 2014

Free dance music: Adagio from Spartacus (the ballet by Khachaturian)

Of note:  Partnered in 2006. Weaver (from Texas) obtained Canadian citizenship so couple would be Olympic eligible. Known fondly as WeaPo. Weaver recovered from fractured fibula in record time to compete at 2013 Worlds. Greatest success with programs showcasing intense emotion and personal connection. They train in Canada, U.S. and Russia.

Follow: https://twitter.com/WeaverPoje

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, Italy

Ages: 30, 32

Credentials:  World Champions 2014. European Champions 2014. Six national titles.

Previous Olympic experience: 12th in 2010. 6th in 2014.

Free dance music: not yet announced

Of note:  Partnered in 2005. Perennial crowd favorites thanks to charming, whimsical programs such as their Charlie Chaplin portrayal. Cappellini is married to Czech-Italian pair skater Ondrej Hotarek. Lanotte has a one-year-old son.

Follow: https://www.instagram.com/kapanna87/?hl=en  https://www.instagram.com/luca.lanotte_skater/

Happy #OlympicDay everyone! 🙆🏻⛸🎉 @teamUSA

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates, USA

Ages: 25, 28

Credentials:  World Championship bronze in 2016 and silver in 2015. Four Continents silver (twice). Grand Prix Final silver (twice). National title 2015.

Previous Olympic experience: 8th in 2014

Free dance music: Imagine (a cover of John Lennon classic)

Of note:  Partnered only since 2011 after several years competing with other partners. Raunchy 2017 short dance Bad to the Bone was a stark departure from previous programs. Chock’s outside interests include fashion design, as she has designed their competition outfits.

Follow: https://twitter.com/chockolate02   https://twitter.com/Evan_Bates

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