The Olympic gold medal eluded them four years ago in PyeongChang, in what might have been the most disappointing, distressing moment of their career. But they built upon that disappointment and the silver medal to climb their way to the gold, in what will probably stay as one of the most rewarding moment of the same career.
And, atop of everything, they have done it in China, the place where it all started.
by Florentina Tone
Gabriella Papadakis will call the host country a lucky place for her and Guillaume Cizeron right after their rhythm dance in Beijing, which they won on February 12 with a world record score: 90.83 points.
“China has been a lucky place for us, we won our first senior Grand Prix and our first World title in China, and we were always happy to come here. Today we felt some liberation and relief, the beginning is always the most stressful part. We are very happy that we performed our best and enjoyed it”.
Gabriella is right to lean on their victorious moments in China: in only their second senior season, those victories had been defining moments of a very young career.
2014-2015 SEASON. Their triumph at 2014 Cup of China, in Shanghai, raised a lot of eyebrows at the time – including their own. They just couldn’t believe it.
3rd after their Paso Doble-Flamenco short dance, they would take everyone’s breath away, flying, floating, caressing the air, during their free dance to music by Mozart, Adagio from Concerto no. 23.
They would win, in everyone’s complete amazement, the first Grand Prix event of their career.
In an interview for Inside Skating, Gabriella relived the moment: “I remember I was sooo happy after the short dance [at Cup of China]. We were third and I was like: Oh, My God! It’s probably not gonna stay like that, but I’m just gonna enjoy being third after the short dance! And then we were first after the free dance, and I was like: Whaat!? It was so much to handle, it was so fast, and we didn’t expect it! Yeah, I really remember these moments! Seeing the scores, and being on the podium – I was like a child at Disneyland! Just amazed at everything”.
“I think the first win in Shanghai was a really big surprise for us”, Guillaume would add. “That was the most surprising event, and then the second Grand Prix, and the Final, and the Europeans – and it started to grow on us this feeling that we’re capable of doing it, of actually getting a gold medal at Worlds”.
And, then, a couple of months later, in March 2015, they would do just that: win their first World title, in Shanghai, again, to everyone’s amazement.
Romain Haguenauer, their coach, laughed while remembering: “At first, they didn’t even realize they became World champions”.
Gabriella: “At first I didn’t really understand. I saw the scores and I didn’t know that we were first, and I didn’t realized it, actually. But Marie and Romain were in the Kiss and Cry with us, and they really realized, so they were really, really happy, and it took us like a few long seconds to just… What’s happening here?! I guess we’re happy?! I don’t knoooow! What’s happening here?! It’s good, yeah!”
A wonderful journey through the years, the seasons and their programs followed – all, culminating with the gold medal they just won in Beijing, at 2022 Olympics.
They have come full circle.
THE RELIEF: THEY FINALLY HAVE THE OLYMPIC MOMENT THEY DESERVE
February 12, 2022: last to take the ice in the penultimate group of dancers, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron offer an iconic rhythm dance, in what stays as a first at the Olympics.
The first time waacking – a form of street dance created in the LGBT clubs of Los Angeles during the ’70 – is brought, from clubs and international dance scenes, onto the ice. While waacking on the music of John Legend, one can see fast, sharp, staccato movements from Gabriella and Guillaume, and then their languid flow, arms in the air, feet on the ice.
The waacking rhythm dance? Addictive to the fingertips.
And their joy at the end, what a beautiful scene, made of so many small, heartwarming moments.
Gabriella smiling to the ears, laughing even, in Guillaume’s arms. Them breathing in unison, before bowing to the audience. Guillaume kissing her on the head. Their joyful faces while heading for the boards, hugging the coaches, in the sounds of their “Bravo!”
The collective laughs. Guillaume’s eyes closed, in the Kiss and Cry, while waiting for the scores.
Finally, the Olympic moment they deserve, to completely erase, and abandon all thoughts about the nerve-wrecking rhythm dance in PyeongChang, four years ago, when Gabriella’s dress had come undone at the neck in the very first seconds of the program, determining what happened during those minutes on the ice, creating a certain Olympic memory loaded with regrets, frustrations and the ubiquitous question “What if?”
All of those “what if-s” are now erased. This brand new Olympic memory made them all vanish.
Now they’re happy, relieved, and grateful: they skated a spectacular program, got rewarded with a world record score – and they don’t feel they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders anymore.
Four years after PyeongChang, that air that kept amassing in a pressure balloon in their minds had finally found its way out.
HEART, BE STILL. OR NOT: FEEL THIS, LIVE THIS
February 14, 2022: no better way to end the ice dance event at the Olympics than this masterpiece of a program, to Gabriel Fauré’s Élégie, skated by Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron in Capitol Indoor Stadium in Beijing. One that got 10, the maximum, for Composition.
Four minutes of sheer grace, when the whole world seems to have stopped – a free dance encapsulating an entire creative process, as if it were a message in a bottle.
Guillaume: “We liked the idea of dancing our last tango – just because when you do something for the last time, it has a different flavour, it has a different feeling to it, it adds a different value. In this program, and in the music, there was an idea of grieving something that is very enjoyable, so it’s like beauty, and grief, and fear, and anger at the same time. And imagining that’s the last time that we skate, it’s a little bit of the same thing: there’s so many layers to it, there’s so many feelings attached to that idea”.
Gabriella: “It couldn’t have been just anything – [the free dance] had to be special, and we put a lot of our thoughts into creating something that we would be proud of, if it was our last. That was the intention that we had”.
When scores show up – and it’s a world record total score: 226.98 points – we have the confirmation, they have it too: they are Olympic champions. And heartwarming moments follow in the Kiss and Cry, with Ice Academy of Montreal’s coaches and dance teams hugging, and laughing, while being so emotionally tied to one another.
The French were awarded no less than 26 perfect 10.00 for Program Components – and they are the second French Olympic Ice Dance Champions in history after Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat who won in 2002.
20 years after, France is atop of the Olympic ice dance podium again.
But, minutes after the flower ceremony, in the mixed zone, this particular feat, them being the Olympic champions, hasn’t really sunk in. Gabriella for Eurosport: “We don’t realize it yet – my brain hasn’t yet understood, I have this feeling of watching a movie about my life”.
A bit like in 2014, right?
Guillaume: “It’s completely unreal, as if we’ve traveled through time. We’ve been so obsessed with this medal for four years, that being on the other side of the curtain doesn’t measure up yet”.
What is this again? A culmination of all the work and efforts they put together in the years following PyeongChang.
Guillaume: “The silver four years ago made us want the gold medal more than anything else. I think we’ve never worked that hard for a specific goal throughout our career. All the gold medals [that we had won] came one after the other, without us really wanting them as a precise goal. This year we gathered the courage to actually want to win, and that was a pretty important shift”.
As of February 14, 2022, they added the Olympic title to their already impressive résumé.
[Feature by Florentina Tone/Photos embedded from Getty Images/screenshot © Eurosport/homepage photo: Alberto Ponti]
THEIR JOURNEY THROUGH STORIES