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After wardrobe malfunction, Canadian and French rivals face off for ice dancing gold

Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are first after the ice dance short program. (Mladen Antonov/Agence France-Presse/Getty)
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Live coverage of the free dance competition starts at 8 p.m. Eastern time Monday on NBCSN.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir pulled ahead of their biggest rivals after Monday’s ice dance short program, thanks to a stirringly precise Latin dance routine, and to the misfortune of their biggest rivals.

The French duo of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron breezed through their medley of Ed Sheeran tunes, not simply because they are a fast pair but also because Papadakis’s costume became undone. The troublesome costume “was kind of … in our thoughts all along the program a little bit,” Cizeron said after the routine, while Papadakis was visibly upset.

That the French remain less than two points behind the Canadians, even with Papadakis’s wardrobe malfunction, portends well for them in the final phase of the competition. The free dance, considerably less regimented than the short, favors their languid style. They’ve spent the past two seasons repeatedly topping their own world record scores.

Three U.S. couples among top seven in ice dancing after Olympic short program

The French pair’s proficiency in free skating will mean they have a tremendous shot of winning gold over the Canadians. Skating is a fickle and slippery sport; judges tend not to reward champions with repeat Olympic titles. No matter what happens, though, Virtue and Moir will be remembered as the best ice dancers the sport has ever seen. Why? They were virtuosos in versatility.

Here’s a sampling of their greatness. Watch them adeptly handle the funky sounds of Prince.

They were able to condense the plot of an entire musical into four minutes, with a charming performance of “Funny Face.”

Their penchant for the dramatic allowed them to bring tension to Bizet’s “Carmen,” an overused piece in skating that was made fresh with Virtue and Moir’s interpretation.

There is simply no form of dance that they don’t do well, but they will perhaps be most known for skating to ballads. It was in this style that Virtue and Moir presented a new vision for ice dance, one that was at once romantic while remaining acrobatic and difficult. Check out their 2010 performance at the Vancouver Games, light and airy and gold medal-winning.

Their impact on the sport will be on display during the free dance.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the American duo who sit in third place, will use their steamy connection and sexual tension to chase the bronze medal. They lack the symmetry and difficulty of the Canadians; they skate farther apart and spend less time in a more difficult dance hold.

Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (fifth after the short program) will try to draw viewers into their story by performing to the soundtrack of “Life is Beautiful,” but they don’t spend as much time skating on a curve, utilizing the deep edges that the Canadians use to generate speed and power. American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani (fourth), like Madison Chock and Evan Bates, used to train with the Canadians. Those teams, along with Russian pair of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (sixth), remain in the hunt for a bronze medal.

But Virtue and Moir’s biggest impact might be seen in the French team themselves, who won their first world championship in 2015, the year after Virtue and Moir (temporarily) retired. Their feathery presentation evokes that 2010 Vancouver short program, but they now skate even bigger than the Canadians: They cover more ice in a shorter amount of time; they use long body lines and pointed toes; and they display facial expressions to conjure a program that captivates.

Papadakis and Cizeron have employed this balletic style in the free dance since 2015, and it remains effective. But even if they win the gold medal in PyeongChang, they will need to do more to prove that they, too, are among the greatest of all time.

Read more from the PyeongChang Olympics:

Doping charge angers Olympic curlers, who admit there could be benefits

Barry Svrluga: For Noora Raty, a continental divide is the difference between bronze and gold

Major Olympic wardrobe malfunction strikes during French ice dancers’ short program

French ski team boots Mikaela Shiffrin’s boyfriend from Olympics over salty comments