Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates Are in Love Off the Ice: They Talk 'Chemistry' and Wedding Plans

"We are so lucky because we have this thing that we share, this ice dance that's our own little corner of the universe," Bates tells PEOPLE of competing with his girlfriend

There's one word that describes the no-words-needed ease of communication between Olympic ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who have been dating for about five years.

"Chemistry," Bates, 32, told PEOPLE in a recent interview before he and the 29-year-old Chock headed to Beijing for the Winter Olympics.

"That has always been the case, even before we were dating," Bates says of their bond. "We sort of would look at each other and smile."

Adds Chock: "When you're skating together, you don't always talk and you don't always want to talk when you're training. It can be very physical and mentally challenging. And so you have to kind of read each other's signals — and over the years after being together for so long on the ice and then off the ice, you kind of pick up on the other person's nuances and understand what makes them tick or what kind of mood they're in just by looking at their body language. And that's really helpful for when we want to save our energy and just pour everything into our training."

It's boosting them in competition, too.

The couple helped Team USA win a silver medal — their first — in the skating team event.

They could also make it onto the podium in the individual ice dancing, which wraps up Sunday night (Eastern). After the first half of the competition, Chock and Bates were in fourth place with 84.14 points, just behind American teammates Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue.

If they continue to skate at that level, they'll see major improvement from their previous Olympic showings. (They got ninth in their individual event in 2018, their last Games.)

But that's not the only thing that matters.

"We don't feel we have to go there and make up for anything that's happened in the past," says Bates.

He explains: "I think the growth that we've achieved and the success we've had in the last three and a half years … has already been such a success that whatever happens in Beijing won't necessarily make or break whether we feel like it was worth it."

Madison Chock and Evan Bates
From left: Evan Bates and Madison Chock competing in 2020. Matthew Stockman/Getty
Madison Chock and Evan Bates
From left: Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Harry How/Getty

Chock agrees. "We just felt like there was more that we could tap into," she says. "There was a missing piece that we wanted to explore and we wanted to really just be the best that we could possibly be and push ourselves because we're students of the sport. We love learning. We're constantly learning and trying to expand our horizons."

Among the changes they've made as skaters since the 2018 Winter Olympics was a geographic one — relocating to Montreal — and a series of temperamental change-ups. Instead of allowing themselves one vacation a year, for example, they've started seeking out multiple breaks and found "a lot of refreshment" from that, Bates says.

Recovery, they both say, is key.

So is their connection to one another.

"We've learned so much from skating and experiencing so many high moments and low moments that we've found such a deep support for each other and communication that we continue to work on and foster through our sport," Chock says. "And so that's been really helpful for our relationship off the ice to have learned those lessons and to be able to deal with that kind of stress and pressure and excitement."

The pair first announced they were dating in late 2017, after about a year together. Bates told NBC he was the one to make the first move (though they had gone on a date together years earlier, as teenagers).

"I pretty much told Maddie that I loved her," Bates said in 2018.

Their shared love for their sport supports their romance and vice-versa, Bates tells PEOPLE.

"We are so lucky because we have this thing that we share, this ice dance that's our own little corner of the universe," he says. "And it's something that we together get to pour everything into. We're super passionate about it. We push each other, we inspire each other, we share ideas, we go back and forth. It's our job, but it doesn't feel like our job."

"We're kind of naturally different in many ways," he continues. "And I find that, the further we go, the more those divisions are kind of disappearing a little bit and that we, I don't want to use the word hive mind, but we share a lot of the same thoughts and a lot of the same intuition."

Madison Chock and Evan Bates
From left: Madison Chock and Evan Bates celebrate after a 2019 competition. MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty

"Maddie was always someone who would skate with her heart wide open and her performer self would come out as soon as she stepped on the ice. And I was naturally kind of more of an analytical person or someone who just was in a different space," Bates says. "And we've worked a lot on kind of–"

Chock chimes in: "Helping each other with filling in gaps."

On the ice on Sunday night, for their free dance, the pair will be skating to a medley of Daft Punk with a routine that mixes an interstellar theme with more techno-modernist touches than the average viewer might be expecting. (They likewise skated to Billie Eilish in their rhythm dance.)

"We're proud that we're pushing the sport forward in certain ways and standing out from the crowd," Bates says. "Our goal is to expand the sport and to draw new fans and hopefully inspire people to take to the ice themselves and dream of being in the Olympics themselves someday," he adds.

Chock says they knew it was a "risky decision" — "but high risk, high reward," she says. "And we felt that we really wanted to use a program that would showcase our creativity and uniqueness as a couple."

As for what's next in their personal lives? The pair — Chock in her third Games, Bates in his fourth — are already leaving Beijing with at least one Olympic medal. They say there's no set date for wedding bells.

And even though Bates hasn't proposed yet, they talk over certain details. Just in case.

"We just like to discuss where we might like to have it," Chock says.

"Yeah," says Bates, "we're like, 'Oh, that's a nice venue, let's do some research there.' "

Madison Chock and Evan Bates
From left: Madison Chock and Evan Bates competing in 2019. Gregory Shamus/Getty

Their future nuptials will have to hold while they see the rest of their skating career through.

"We're not deciding to retire after the season," Bates tells PEOPLE. "We are still really passionate about skating. We still feel young and we still feel like there's room for improvement and growth. And I keep hearing about four Games and being one of the oldest skaters. And I'm like, 'How did that happen?' I don't feel like I'm just as seasoned as that makes me sound."

Says Chock: "When we do decide to retire, we will definitely be having a big celebration. And that will probably include a wedding."

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, now, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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