Olympic love: Meet some of the couples competing at the 2022 Winter Olympics ❤️
BEIJING — It's Valentine's Day at the Winter Olympics.
And for a handful of athletes, such as Evan Bates and Madison Chock, it promises to be an extra special occasion.
"Do you have any plans for Valentine's Day at the Olympics?" a reporter asked Saturday.
"No, I mean..." said Bates
"Yeah we do!" Chock interjected. "We have our free dance run-through!"
Chock and Bates, who finished fourth in ice dance, are one of the few couples at the Games who are actually competing together. Others feature athletes in different disciplines, or different sports or from different countries. It's not unusual for Olympic athletes to meet, or lay the foundation for a relationship, through their sport.
Here are a few of the most prominent partnerships at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates
Evan Bates first asked Madison Chock out on a date when she was 16 years old. They went to Bahama Breeze, a Caribbean-themed restaurant chain. But that first date was also their only one – for the time being, at least.
Years later, they started skating together after Chock's previous partner retired. And years after that, before the Pyeongchang Olympics, they started dating.
Today, Chock and Bates are the reigning U.S. national champions in ice dance – partners on the ice for 11 years, and off the ice for the past five. It's a lot of time to spend together, but they've loved it.
"I feel like skating together and being a couple off the ice made us into a mature couple very quickly," Bates said. "It kind of made us grow together."
Ashley Caldwell and Justin Schoenefeld
Thursday night was a good one for Ashley Caldwell and Justin Schoenefeld.
Together with Christopher Lillis, the couple won gold in Olympic debut of mixed team aerials.
According to The Washington Times, Caldwell and Schoenfeld met after the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, after the latter joined the U.S. aerials team. They quickly hit it off.
"We just clicked so much that there was just no stopping us from dating each other," Caldwell told the newspaper.
Adrian Diaz and Madison Hubbell
Like Chock and Bates, Adrian Diaz and Madison Hubbell are also ice dancers in a romantic relationship. They just don't compete with one another.
Diaz skates with Olivia Smart for Spain, while Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are among the top pairs for the United States, winning the bronze medal in ice dance at the Beijing Olympics. Diaz and Hubbell have been dating since the 2014-15 season and engaged since 2018. They plan to marry in 2023.
Hubbell said that, because they often compete against one another, she relished the recent team figure skating competition, where the U.S. won silver. Spain did not have a team, so Diaz could watch her live.
"Usually we’re focused on our event so much that we don’t get to see each other in person," she said, according to The Associated Press. "So I’m really happy to have him able to be there."
Marie-Michele Gagnon and Travis Ganong
Gagnon and Ganong are both Alpine skiers, representing Canada and the United States, respectively. They met at a race in 2007 and got engaged in September – while, naturally, on top of a mountain.
"She enthusiastically climbed up to this spot with me in a rain storm, the Matterhorn completely covered in clouds, without second guessing the adventure," Ganong, 33, wrote on Instagram. "And said yes!"
Gagnon, 32, added in her own post: "13 years into it, but couldn’t have been timed more perfectly!"
Red Gerard and Hailey Langland
Red Gerard figures he’s known Hailey Langland “since before double digits.”
At 21, that’s a long time for the two slopestyle snowboarders, who have now competed in their second Olympics together.
The couple, who began dating shortly before the Pyeongchang Games four years ago, have the rare benefit of a loved one with them at an Olympics where international visitors are not allowed.
“He’s awesome. He’s so fun to watch ride, and I’m really, really lucky to have him here,” Langland said. “That definitely helped me make the decision to come here. I’m just a really lucky gal.”
Their shared experience of competing on the same course in the same events gives each other a sounding board as they share ideas for runs. Slopestyle is unique in competitive snowboarding because the variety and layout of the course changes from contest to contest and requires riders to figure out their best run each time.
“Our dynamic of snowboarding, me being able to push her and her being able to push me, is really cool,” Gerard said. “It’s a fun part to our relationship that I like.”
Cornelius Kersten and Ellia Smeding
On January 28, British speedskater Ellia Smeding posted a video of herself at the National Speed Skating Oval, with fellow speedskater Cornelius Kersten by her side.
"At the Olympics with my bestest friend," she wrote on Instagram. "Someone pinch me!!!"
Kersten, 27, and Smeding, 23, are partners in both a romantic relationship and a business venture – a coffee company called "Brew ′22," that they founded to help fund their travel and training expenses ahead of these Games.
While they train in the Netherlands, which is a speedskating hotbed, Kersten and Smeding both represent Great Britain, which is... not. One of their goals at these Games is to spark more interest in the sport in their home nation.
"I don’t really know what we’ve achieved yet," Kersten told The Associated Press, "but hopefully we’ve achieved something."
Mikaela Shiffrin and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde
Mikaela Shiffrin and Aleksander Aamodt Kilde aren’t dating for the competitive advantage. But it’s not a bad added bonus.
“She sends me videos, I send her videos and then we try to learn from each other a little bit,” said Kilde, the overall champion in 2020. “That’s cool. I have a lot to learn from her.”
The Norwegian and Shiffrin have been dating since early 2021, and made their relationship Instagram-official in June.
With the men’s and women’s World Cup circuits rarely in the same places at the same time, Shiffrin and Kilde keep in touch during the season through FaceTime and phone calls. The Olympics are no different.
“With COVID and restrictions, you have to be really careful,” Kilde said. “It’s a tease kind of. You see her but you can’t really touch her, you can’t really be with her that much. But it’s really nice to have her here.”
Tim Koleto and Misato Komatsubara
Another real-life ice dancing couple, Tim Koleto and Misato Komatsubara met through the sport in 2016.
They were both looking for new partners and met in Milan, Italy for a random tryout. And the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
"We talk about it often that it was fate that we found each other the way we did," Koleto told The Associated Press.
Koleto, who was born in Montana, has since become a Japanese citizen and legally adopted his wife's surname.
Kim Meylemans and Nicole Silveira
Belgium's Kim Meylemans and Brazil's Nicole Silveira not only compete in the same sport, skeleton, but they also competed directly against one another. Silveira finished 13th and Meylemans was a few spots behind in 18th.
“We had to navigate being competitors, but also being in a relationship," Silveira recently told reporters. "We figured it out. Basically, when we're at the track we are competitors and outside of the track, it's fair game, real life partners."
Silveira, 27, said the couple met three years ago but "it wasn’t until this last season that we made things official." She finished 17th at the most recent world championships. Meylemans, 25, finished ninth.
Ryan Sommer and Blayre Turnbull
Hundreds of athletes marched in the opening ceremony, and documented the experience on social media. But a post from Blayre Turnbull stood out.
"Name a cooler place to be reunited with your fiancé after spending the last 3 months apart," she wrote in a caption on Instagram, alongside a photo of herself and fiancé Ryan Sommer. "I’ll wait."
Sommer and Turnbull are both Olympians competing for Canada, the former in four-man bobsled and the latter in women's hockey. Fortunately, their medal-determining rounds do not occur on the same day, so Sommer and Turnbull might be able to watch and support one another in their most pivotal moments at the Games.
Contributing: Nancy Armour, Rachel Axon and Tom Schad
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report