Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir might be the greatest of all ice dancers. France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron likely are their biggest challengers at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Still, the power in ice dance lies in the United States.
American champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue stood third after the free dance Monday. Their margin over teammates Maia and Alex Shibutani was virtually no margin at all: two-hundredths of a point. In seventh place, despite her skating with a reinjured right foot, were Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
While all three could be too far behind to grab gold — don't tell the Shibutanis that — a spot on the podium for the fourth straight Olympics is quite attainable.
As for that gold, the brother/sister combination Shibutanis (yes, the Shib Sibs) aren't shying away from a nearly six-point deficit to Virtue and Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions and 2014 silver medalists who broke their own short dance record with a 83.67 score.
"They breathe the same air as anyone, unless science has come up with something I don't know about," Alex said with a chuckle. "We've been on the same podiums with them, and we've beaten (the French) at some competitions. We're really darn good when we are the best we can be. I don't feel intimidated and I know Maia feels the same."
"We believe our best can be the best," she added.
It will take some doing for the Shibutanis to get that high, or even to the silver medal for which they trailed by 4.2 points. But they certainly were in range of third place.
That spot belonged to Hubbell and Donohue, who after years of chasing the other two U.S. couples won the national title in January. There was plenty of satisfaction for them after as good a performance on the international stage as they've managed.
"We've been preparing for this for many years, and we're thankful for our coaching staff who could prepare us the best as possible," said Hubbell, who with Donohue trains in Montreal with the same coaches as the Canadian and French teams. "But there's really no getting ready for how it's going to feel for being at the Olympics.
"I think it was a balancing act for us, being really emotional and full of gratitude, but also staying focused and doing our job. It was an incredible experience and I can't wait to get back on the ice tomorrow; we're really proud of what we were able to do."
So were the Shibutanis, whose marks were hurt by mistakes the judges found in their rhumba portion; all short dances this season are required to be to Latin music.
Three-time world championship medalists and twice the U.S. champs, the Shibutanis have a stronger international resume than the other American duos. They were ninth at the Sochi Games when they had just begun working their way up the standings.
"We feel so good with what we laid out on Olympic ice," Maia Shibutani said. "Our goal is to be on the podium, and to skate our best is all we can do, and we feel we did that."
Chock and Bates couldn't do so after she hurt her right foot in the final 30 seconds of the warmup. Chock dealt with a loose bone fragment, but performed well enough to make the Olympic squad.
She said she aggravated it on the same maneuver with which she first hurt it months ago.
"The adrenaline kicked in today and that really helped, but it was a bit sore," said Chock, who quickly took off her skates backstage after the program. "We will manage it well and train based on how much my foot can handle."
Meryl Davis and Charlie White won gold ahead of Virtue and Moir in Sochi. Four years before that, their top two finishes were reversed.
In 2006 at the Turin Games, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won silver.
For years before that, ice dance was a fourth wheel in U.S. figure skating. That's certainly changed.
"With the level of competition we have," Hubbell said, "it prepares you for what you see at the Olympics. We're all prepared."
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