Madison Chock and Evan Bates stood atop the podium at Skate America for the first time in seven years on Sunday and, along the way, stepped into the spotlight as the preeminent American ice dancers following the retirement of close friends and longtime training mates Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.
Despite a miscue on their character step sequence -- they got no points for the free dance element -- Chock and Bates still managed to squeak by fellow Americans Kaitlin Hawayak and Jean-Luc Baker by the slimmest of margins.
Chock and Bates scored 202.80 points, while Hawayak and Baker finished with 202.07. The Canadian duo of Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain le Gac was a distant third with 178.30 points.
"Obviously there's work to do," Bates said, "but we're not a couple to shy away from that. We definitely know what we need to work on. We have a couple of weeks at home before we head off to Japan for NHK Trophy and we know what to do."
In the women's event, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan performed brilliantly to hold off 15-year-old American star Isabeau Levito, who made a sublime Grand Prix debut to finish second. Amber Glenn of the U.S. was third.
Chock and Bates, who were third at worlds this year and became engaged in June, acknowledged they didn't perform as well at the Tenley E. Albright Performance Center near Boston as they had been at their training base in Montreal.
They lamented a couple of bobbles during their rhythm dance Saturday, though it was still good enough to leave them in first place. Then came the mistake on their character step sequence during their free dance, when they did not stretch the element from the boards on one side to the boards on the other and received no credit for it.
"It won't happen again," Chock said with a laugh. "We will fix it."
"This rink is bigger than our rink at home," Bates said with another laugh and nod.
Meanwhile, the pairing of Hawayak and Baker -- who train with Chock and Bates under Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal -- almost claimed the biggest title of their careers. Their free dance was nearly perfect Sunday, giving them the win on the day if not their first Grand Prix win since the 2018 NHK Trophy.
"Today felt really aligned between Jean-Luc and I. We felt really grounded going into the event," Hawayak said, "and really performed, because this season, we're really stepping into a place where we're owning what we're doing. And we're believing what we're doing is good enough to be the best in the world. We're just really happy with the response today."
In the women's event, Levito had ground to make up after her short program, and she spun out of an opening triple lutz-triple toe loop Sunday. But she roared back to hit a triple salchow, a pair of double axels around a triple flip, then fought for the landing on a triple lutz-triple toe loop. She finished with another combination to post a score of 206.66 points.
Sakamoto not only took aim at that mark but shot right past it.
The Olympic bronze medalist never wavered during her free skate to "Elastic Heart" by the Australian singer-songwriter Sia. From her opening double axel, perhaps the best in all of figure skating, to a double axel-triple toe loop that landed near the end of her program, Sakamoto kept the sellout crowd in Norwood, Massachusetts, downright captivated.
Sakamoto finished with 217.61 points to win a Grand Prix event for the third straight year.
"I was pretty upset that I missed the combo, the first element," Levito said afterward. "You have your most energy in the beginning and I was pretty upset that I missed that, but I was somewhat satisfied by the rest of the program."