Evan Bates had to overcome a virtual whirlwind of obstacles in order to secure passage to his second Olympic Games. But when he competes in Sochi, he will bring with him the type of experiences, both good and bad, that will help him contend for a medal.
But little, if anything, will be the same as the first time around.
Bates heads to Sochi with a new partner—Madison Chock—a new coach and a surgically repaired Achilles tendon that cost him the entire 2010-2011 season and quite possibly his longtime partnership with Emily Samuelson.
After posting a disappointing 11th in the ice dancing competition at the Vancouver Games, Bates and Samuelson decided a change of direction was needed. They moved on from their longtime coaches and headed off down a different path.
But a freak accident during practice—coming down off a lift, Samuelson's skate landed on the back of Bates' foot, completely severing his Achilles tendon—left the team in dire straits.
Shortly after missing a full year, they announced that they would be ending their association after 11 years together.
Bates is now back in the Winter Games, and his partnership with Chock remains new and somewhat unique.
Unlike the other American ice dancing pairs in Sochi, who have all been together for at least 10 years, Bates and Chock have been competing together for less than three.
Obviously that has both advantages and disadvantages, but Bates accentuates the positive.
“We’re not totally sick of each other," Bates told Carol Hopkins of The Oakland Press.
"This seems like a totally different life. I’m really excited to go back to the Games and share [them] with Maddy," he said.
And he'll have a world of experience to share with her. He's been here before, and over the course of his career he's performed and succeeded on bigger stages than his younger, and considerably shorter, partner.
Chock had success in the juniors while paired with Greg Zuerlein.
They captured gold at the 2009 World Junior Figure Skating Championships and snagged a bronze when they moved up to the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in 2011. But that was pretty much the extent of their success together.
With Bates, Chock captured silver at both the 2013 and 2014 U.S. nationals, and let's be totally fair—there's no shame in finishing behind Meryl Davis and Charlie White twice.
It was largely on the strength of those showings that they booked their ticket to Sochi.
It's an experience that Chock says she's looking forward to and, without worrying about how they finish, hopes to enjoy.
“We just want to enjoy the experience and put out two great skates," Chock told Hopkins.
They'll get their first chance to do so on Feb. 16 when they hit the ice for the short program. Between now and then, it's understandable that Chock, in her first Games, would fall prey to some nervous moments.
But it definitely helps to have an experienced partner around to help you through those nerves.
Now, you can never get over the thrill of being an Olympic athlete. Whether you do it once or twice or a hundred times, it's still a special achievement and a special moment. And there are bound to be nerves for even the most experienced competitor.
But there are some tricks of the trade, so to speak, that help you manage it, and one of them is sharing the experience with someone—in Chock's case her partner will do—or someones.
That's why Chock says she and Bates will be staying in the Olympic Village rather than a hotel, which some athletes prefer.
"It’ll be a good environment,” she told Hopkins. “We’ve done this before but not on such a large scale. We’ll be around people we know.”
And on the ice, she'll be with a partner who she's grown to know very well over these past two or so years of competition.
Bates and Chock may not have the same level of experience, at least as a team, of some of their better-known competitors in Sochi, but they have a ton of upside, especially considering that they'll only get better.
Nobody says you need to have a decade's worth of experience to walk away with an Olympic medal, but it certainly helps.
Bates doesn't have a decade, but he has enough, and it'll help propel him and Chock to a surprising podium appearance in Sochi.
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