GANGNEUNG, South Korea — It was one of the most exhilarating days and fascinating clashes of styles ever seen in Olympic ice dancing.
In the end, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada prevailed by less than a point Tuesday over their chief rivals, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, to win their third career gold medal. It was also their fifth Olympic medal overall, the most among any figure skaters.
The French couple, which had experienced a wardrobe malfunction in Monday’s short program and had appeared distracted, won Tuesday’s free dance with a world-record score. But they trailed by 1.74 points entering the final round of competition and could not withstand a challenge from the Canadian couple who skated last, performing to music from “Moulin Rouge” with great energy, emotion, drama and athletic lifts to win with 206.07 points.
“There was a lot of pressure, but I’m so happy with how we performed,” Virtue said.
Papadakis and Cizeron seemed to float across the ice with a romantic, lyrical performance, and won the silver with 205.28 points, but the crowd remained subdued during their languid, modern routine to “Moonlight Sonata.” Virtue and Moir, however, enlivened the audience with a more vigorous performance, raising the question of whether their classic style will become the one the next generation of ice dancers tries to emulate as the sport continues to evolve.
Alex and Maia Shibutani of the United States, who are brother and sister, also gave a stirring performance to the Coldplay song “Paradise,” and took the bronze medal with 192.59 points. They finished just ahead of teammates Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who took third in the short program but slipped to fourth overall after the free dance as the Shibutanis rose to the medal podium.
“It feels like gold,” Alex Shibutani said.
The gold and silver medal performances were “two of the best free dances I’ve ever seen,” said Jackie Wong, a skating analyst from New York. “The energy in the crowd was so different simply because of the types of programs they were skating. Tessa and Scott were much more projecting out to the crowd, whereas Gabby and Guillaume were more insular, inward programs. Both were amazing.”
The reaction of the spectators most likely made little difference in the judges’ scores, Wong said, “but I’m sure Tessa and Scott fed off the energy of the crowd. When they do that, that’s when they bring out that great performance.”
With such a narrow difference between gold and silver, the French were left to contemplate this: Would they have prevailed had Papadakis’ costume not opened revealingly during Monday’s short program and left her unnerved and cautious, which the couple believed cost them some points?
It is impossible to read the judges’ minds, but George Rossano, editor of the website Ice Skating International, said, “My crystal ball says if they didn’t have the mishap yesterday, they would have had enough points to win gold.”
At the same time, Rossano said, “today, their program needed to be mesmerizing and it wasn’t. It was emotional and touching but it wasn’t mesmerizing. And I think that kind of program has to be mesmerizing to win.”
The French pair felt complicated emotions in finishing less than a point from a gold medal, Papadakis said. But, she added, that there was nothing to regret.
“We couldn’t have skated better,” she said.
Cizeron called their free dance “almost the perfect performance.”
“We’re just really proud of that,” he said.
Virtue and Moir won ice dancing gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics, silver in 2014 and two golds here — one in the team competition and another Tuesday. They also won a silver medal in the inaugural team competition at the 2014 Winter Games.
The Canadian couple joined a rarefied group of figure skaters who have won three Olympic gold medals: Gillis Grafstrom of Sweden, the men’s singles champion in 1920, ’24 and ’28; Sonja Henie of Norway, the women’s champion in 1928, ’32 and ’36; and Irina Rodnina, the Soviet pairs skater who won gold with two different partners in 1972, ’76 and ’80.
“We skated with each other in mind the whole way and we skated with our hearts,” Moir said. “It’s extremely fulfilling.”