Just a few seconds into their Latin short program at the Winter Olympics, telecast on Sunday, the unthinkable happened to French ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis: The neck clasp on her sequined halter top came unfastened.
For the next nearly three minutes, their coaches watched horrified as she fought to keep her top from falling down as she twirled and twizzled, and her partner, Guillaume Cizeron, lifted her off the ice in front of an international audience.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t prevent a Janet Jackson moment on live TV, a couple of them, actually. Her costume slipped out of place, briefly exposing her left breast midway through the routine and a nip slip marred the ending.
Tears streaming down her face, Papadakis avoided the media right after but later called it her “worst nightmare happening at the Olympics.”
She said she knew immediately that she was exposed but knew she had no choice but to keep going. “I felt it right away and I prayed,” she told reporters. “That’s about what I could do.”
The 22-year-old skater explained the mishap simply: “My costume opened up.”
It was her Olympic debut.
NBC analyst Tanith White, a former ice dancer, was almost stunned into silence at the end of the performance.
“I can’t even describe, not only how distracting that it, but just how disappointing it is that they had to perform that program with that distraction for themselves,” she said. “It’s just not the kind of thing that you want to worry about in competition.
“They are such exceptional skaters, but unfortunately, that was distracting throughout the entire program and it hurt them in the technical execution, which is really where they shine. They are such a strong team.
“I’m just heartbroken that this even had to be part of their Olympic story.”
White noted that moments before the duo took the ice, one of the couple’s coaches was “actually sewing that closed. It’s just very upsetting. I don’t even have words. It’s just not at all what we expected in this moment.”
The moment shocked viewers, too. On Twitter, fans and fellow skaters sent Papadakis sympathy and berated those who posted screengrabs of the skater’s exposed breast.
TV viewers were irate that the CBC (Canada Broadcasting Corp.) apparently showed the nip slip in a slow motion replay.
“We aired this event live with no tape delay and the replay packages are provided to us by the host broadcaster. We will be removing these moments from our re-broadcasts,” the CBC tweeted in response to the ire.
An NBC spokesman said the network has edited the video for future broadcasts and online replays.
Papadakis told the Associated Press that she and Cizeron “can be proud of ourselves being able to deliver a great performance with that happening.”
Whether viewers realized it or not, Cizeron, who caused the costume blunder, was trying to help his partner as they skated.
“There were some snaps on her neck and it was sewn also and it just got undone,” the team’s co-coach, Marie-France Dubreuil, told Metro Toronto. “So Guillaume is holding her by the neck. He probably ripped it on the way up.
“You know, sometimes in competition you have a little bit more adrenalin and more power in your body than you normally have.
“It’s very unfortunate, but I must say I don’t know any other girl who would have finished the performance the way she did, even with the top completely undone. I mean, she has nerves of steel.
“Guillaume tried to keep the top at a place where she could keep going. It was amazing teamwork they did out there today. I mean, that’s a real testament to their hard work and training.”
Dubreuil said the couple’s coaches had to make a split-second decision when the top came loose.
“Do we scream and stop the music?” she said. “What do we do?”
If they had stopped and restarted they would have forfeited five points and likely any shot at the gold medal, she said.
“Gabby and Guillaume looked at each other and made a decision to keep going regardless,” Dubreuil said.
There was an upside, the coach said: The mishap didn’t happen during the free dance, “where there’s a lot of upside-down lifts.”
Cizeron, 23, did much of the talking to the media afterward.
It was frustrating, he said, “to miss a few points just because of a costume issue. It’s not what we get ready for when we train. But you know, I’m so proud that we managed to pull out a program like that even with a difficulty like this.
“And we just look forward to a new day tomorrow and we have our chances to win and we’ll just do our best.”
The mistake took a toll on their final score because Papadakis had to deal with her top.
Yet they still managed to finish in second place with 81.93, right behind Canadian juggernauts Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue’s score of 83.67. No other teams finished with more than 80 points.
People magazine noted that only one reporter asked the couple about anything besides the wardrobe oops when they met with the media later. And when that question came, Papadakis immediately responded: “Thank you for not talking about the dress anymore.”