Skating together for roughly 15 years -- far more than half their lives -- and having been crowned world champions four times, they finally reached the pinnacle of their sport.
Before these Games, Papadakis and Cizeron had won at least one gold medal for every major competition they've entered. Over the past eight seasons, they finished first at 24 international events, second at five and third at one. One of those six-in-30 'losses,' if you will, was a silver medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games. Four years later, they are golden.
"For years this was the only medal that we wanted and the past four years were just about that moment," Papadakis said. "We worked a lot and it was very hard."
They did it in record fashion as well: Their rhythm dance score of 90.83 points bested their previous world record of 90.03 and their total of 226.98 topped their previous world record of 226.61. Both records had previously stood for 27 months.
They are the first French ice dance team to be crowned Olympic champions in 20 years.
"I feel like I am watching a movie about my life," Papadakis laughed.
The only team to defeat Papadakis and Cizeron since the 2018 Winter Olympics -- the Russian Olympic Committee's Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov -- took the silver medal with 220.51 points. The 2020 European champions and 2021 world champions were competing at their first Winter Games together after teaming up in 2014. He is the 2014 Olympic ice dance bronze medalist and team event gold medalist for Russia with then-partner Elena Ilinykh, while she is also a 2014 Olympian with Ruslan Zhiganshin.
"I was absolutely shocked," Katsalapov said of his silver, and now fourth career, medal. "I couldn't believe it."
For the fifth Winter Olympics in a row, a U.S. team earned a place on the ice dance podium -- unthinkable for a nation that won a medal in the discipline's 1976 Olympic debut and then went 30 years without.
It was Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue who claimed the bronze with 218.02 points, a fitting finale for the team retiring from competition after next month's world championships. They were in bronze-medal position following the short dance at their 2018 Olympic debut but fell to fourth overall when Donohue put both hands down on the ice during a slide in their free dance.
Having decided before this season even began that it would be their last, Hubbell and Donohue chose to bask in the Olympic spotlight for an extra moment after their performance.
"We knew that we had to be very focused in the moment and rely that would be sufficient, that would be enough, so at the end we were just trying to soak in as much as we could of Olympic ice," Hubbell said. "Without any pressure, without anything riding on the line, we just wanted to take a moment to thank the audience, thank each other, the arena. Not many people get to experience that moment, so it would be a shame to walk away without really appreciating it."
They follow in the footsteps of U.S. figure skating greats Tanith White (nee Belbin) and Ben Agosto (2006 silver), Meryl Davis and Charlie White (2010 silver, 2014 gold) and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (2018 bronze).
Madison Chock and Evan Bates, she a three-time Olympian and he at his fourth Games (a record for any U.S. figure skater) finished fourth with 214.77 points, a redemptive skate for them as well. Both members of the couple (who are one off the ice as well) fell in their free dance in 2018 and they placed ninth. They were fourth at the 2021 World Championships as well, though had defeated Hubbell and Donohue for the U.S. title last month.
"Given the depth of ice dance and how fierce the competition is, we knew coming in we would need the best from ourselves to be on the podium," Bates said. "We really are proud of what we did and also proud of what our competitors did. For Zach and Madi to medal is something also that we’re proud of them for; for the U.S. to win that medal is important. Of course we wanted to be on the podium too, but it didn’t happen and that’s part of sport and that’s what makes the Olympics so entertaining for folks at home and so motivating for the athletes.
"There are only three spots on the podium and we were fourth, but there’s a lot to be proud of still."
This is the third time in the past four Olympics where the second-placed U.S. team was fourth, proving the country's high-level depth in the discipline.
This time, though, was different. It came with a bittersweet feeling for Hubbell and Donohue as they celebrated their own triumph with their close friends. They trained at Ice Academy of Montreal with Chock and Bates the past four years and, in the case of Michiganders Hubbell and Bates specifically, known each other for upwards of 20 years.
"Of course we cried like babies backstage with Madi and Evan," Hubbell said.
"It’s tough because they celebrated us wholeheartedly and in that same hug you feel the disappointment of them being so close to the podium and I wish there was a place for everyone. They’ve provided amazing friendship and competition through many years. They were extremely gracious."
I.AM is home to 10 of the 20 teams that were in the free dance, and 11 of the 23 that competed in the rhythm dance. Skaters under coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon (2002 Olympians for Canada), among others there, finished first, third, fourth, eighth through 13th, 18th and 22nd at these Games.