Russia wins rhythm dance to extend command at skating worlds

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Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the USA perform during the Ice Dance - Rhythm Dance at the Figure Skating World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, Friday, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

STOCKHOLM – Russia extended its dominance at the World Figure Skating Championships on Friday when Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov took the rhythm dance.

Already, the Russians have won pairs — they almost always do — and have the lead in the women's event. Sinitsina and Katsalapov were in front of U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue by 2.10 points, with fellow Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates exactly three points behind the leaders.

“We have to finish the work that we’ve already done, Sinitsina said. "We came here ready to show our best.”

All three duos were in top form.

The Russians flowed melodically through their “Singin' in the Rain” routine. They had upset four-time world winners Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France at last season's European Championships, an event not held this year. Sinitsina and Katsalapov validated that result with their rhythm dance with 88.15 points

Hubbell and Donohue, fourth at the 2018 Olympics and winners of two world medals, came in with a personal best 86.05 to a mix of Christina Aguilera songs from “Burlesque.” He pumped his fist at the end of a strong program.

“We also realized this year was not going to be our typical season and the fans would not be in the stands, Hubbell said. “And, for the most part, we would be performing for the judges and the skating community — and, of course, for the fans at home. But the people who were going to be there were these judges, who have committed a lot of their life and time into this journey with us, and we thought they might want to see something new from us.”

Chock and Bates, two-time U.S. champions and Olympians and owners of two world medals, sizzled to Cole Porter's “Too Darn Hot.” Their heat transferred to their marks, and their 85.15 points were good for third place heading into Saturday's free dance.

“It was truly a difficult year," Katsalapov said about pandemic-caused disruptions in the sport. "But we would love to forget about it as quickly as we can. Possibly it gave us some extra powers to activate what we couldn’t at the first half of the season.

“Now we both feel well and feel very satisfied with our short program. In general we showed what we can do, it was clean and soulful, very light."

Only in the rhythm portion of ice dance, with the same required patterns for every couple, could the music range from Broadway to Bee Gees to Blues Brothers, from “Grease” to “The Greatest Showman.” Yet it somehow worked, whether it was the Russians or Americans, Canadians or Brits.

“It's a very energetic program,” Chock noted, “and that kind of energy really creates buzz in the arena even if there aren’t that many people, and there was a really good vibe today. ”

Veterans Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada put on one of their best international performances to take fourth place. Another of the favorites, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia, struggled with some footwork and turns, finishing fifth.

Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker were 11th.

Later Friday is the women's free skate, with Anna Shcherbakova of Russia in the lead.