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Hubbell and Donohue upset Shibutanis for 2018 national ice dance title, both make Olympic team

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the newly-crowned national ice dance champions for 2018, were named to their first Olympic team, U.S. Figure Skating announced Sunday evening.

Joining them are this year’s silver and bronze national medalists, Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates. The Shibutanis competed in Sochi, finishing ninth, and Chock and Bates placed eighth in Sochi. Bates also competed in Vancouver with a different partner.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue made up a 3.23-point deficit from the short dance to overcome two-time national champions Maia and Alex Shibutani for the gold at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California on Sunday evening.

Hubbell and Donohue captured four national bronze medals before their first win in 2018, where their bluesy Beth Hart program scored 118.02 points for an overall score of 197.12. They’ve never competed at the Olympics, but will now be seen as the U.S.’ number one team heading into PyeongChang.

“It really puts us in line with what we intend to be, podium-wise, for PyeongChang,” Donohue said on the NBC broadcast. As he predicted after Thursday’s short dance: “This is our year to upset.”

In ice dance especially, an Olympic-year national title is seen as a reputation boost to enter the Olympics as their country’s national champion.

As reigning Olympic ice dance champion Meryl Davis (with partner Charlie White) said on Friday, “In particular in ice dance, you really want to be team number one out of your country. To go into the Olympic Games as the number one team from the United States is really a big statement. [The teams at nationals are] not just looking ahead to the Olympics, they really want to perform their best here so they can go into the Olympics as team number one.”

The “Shib Sibs,” as they’re affectionately known by fans and on their YouTube channel, were vulnerable after Maia got caught up and stumbled briefly on a step sequence. The Shibutanis’ “Paradise” by Coldplay free dance earned 114.60 points for a silver medal-winning overall score of 196.93 points. The Shibutanis most recently earned the bronze medal ahead of Hubbell and Donohue at the Grand Prix Final. They competed at the Sochi Olympics four years ago, placing ninth.

Rounding out the podium for bronze were Chock and Bates, whose “Imagine” by John Lennon cover free dance earned 118.99 points, and 196.60 points overall.

A quick study of the numbers: (full results here)

  • Chock and Bates actually won the free dance by 0.97 points
  • Gold and silver medals were separated by 0.19 points
  • Silver and bronze medals were separated by 0.33 points
  • Hubbell and Donohue’s overall winning score of 197.12 puts them fifth among high-scoring nationals performances (the other scores belong to the Shibutanis, Chock and Bates, and Davis and White)

The U.S. can send three dance teams to the 2018 Olympics, and the heavy favorites for those spots are Hubbell and Donohue, the Shibutanis, and Chock and Bates. The Olympic team announcement is expected from U.S. Figure Skating on Sunday at 8:55 p.m. ET.

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for PyeongChang Olympics

Shibutanis top U.S. Champs short dance, followed by shake-up

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The top three U.S. ice dance couples are as expected, but in an order we’ve never seen.

Siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani topped the short dance at the U.S. Championships on Friday in San Jose, Calif.

The three-time world medalists, seeking a national title three-peat, scored 82.33 points.

“We’re skating better than we ever have before,” Maia said on NBCSN.

“We’re working to be the best team in the world,” Alex added.

Usually, Madison Chock and Evan Bates are their primary competition. Not this year.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who finished third or fourth at each of the last six nationals, are in second going into Sunday’s free dance.

They tallied 79.10 points.

“We’ve made it our time,” Donohue said on NBCSN. “This is our year to upset it.”

The free dance is Sunday, live on NBC and streaming on NBCOlympics.com at 3 p.m. ET.

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Chock and Bates are in third with 77.61, which is 2.35 points fewer than they scored in last year’s short dance.

Chock and Bates were the top U.S. dance team after Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped away from competition after their Sochi Olympic title, but they were passed by the Shibutanis in 2016 and now could be fading to third in the deepest ice dance nation.

These three couples — among the top six in the world — are the overwhelming favorites to make up the U.S. Olympic team named Sunday evening.

They finished within one point of each other at December’s Grand Prix Final, the biggest international event this season before the Olympics.

In a sense, it doesn’t matter if these couples finish first or third on Sunday when it comes to clinching a PyeongChang spot.

But in ice dance, where reputation matters more than any other discipline, the U.S. champion will arguably be the Olympic bronze-medal favorite.

“To go into the Olympic Games as the No. 1 team from the United States is a big statement,” Davis said Friday.

The gold- and silver-medal favorites are the last two world champions — Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

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Shibutanis headline tight ice dance field at figure skating nationals

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It’s pretty clear which three ice dance couples the U.S. will send to PyeongChang. What’s to be decided at nationals this week is which will be its leading couple and only medal favorite.

Siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani won the last two U.S. titles and haven’t been beaten by a U.S. couple in any event in more than two years.

But the gap is miniscule.

The results from the Grand Prix Final, an Olympic preview of sorts, show just how close the top three U.S. dance teams are:

  1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 202.16 (world record)
  2. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 199.86
  3. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 188.00
  4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 187.40
  5. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 187.15

The French and Canadians are clear favorites for Olympic gold and silver. That leaves three U.S. couples — separated by .85 of a point at the Grand Prix Final — looking for bronze.

Whether the Shibutanis win another U.S. title in San Jose on Sunday or finish third won’t change whether they go to PyeongChang.

But reputation matters more in ice dance than any other discipline. At every Olympics since 1984, the U.S. ice dance couples finished in the same order as they did at nationals a month earlier.

Like in 2014, when Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their sixth straight national title en route to becoming the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions. Chock and Bates were second at nationals and eighth at the Olympics; the Shibutanis were third and ninth.

Davis and White haven’t competed since.

In their absence, the U.S. should have its deepest top-to-bottom ice dance contingent in Olympic history.

The Shibutanis and Chock and Bates each bagged two world championships medals in the last three seasons. Hubbell and Donohue qualified for the last three Grand Prix Finals, a competition for the world’s top-six couples.

PREVIEWS: Men | Women | DancePairsTV Schedule | Olympic Selection

A look at the three very likely U.S. Olympic ice dance couples:

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani
Three world championships medals
2016, 2017 U.S. champions
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 1

Made the podium at seven straight nationals beginning when Maia was 16 years old in 2011, when they won a world bronze medal in their first senior season.

But the Shibutanis really came into their own the last three seasons, overtaking Chock and Bates as the top U.S. couple and claiming world silver in 2016 and bronze in 2017.

They were recently beaten by Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue in programs, but not in a whole competition since the 2015 Grand Prix Final.

“If we’re looking at any other team for motivation, then that’s not really the right place that we should be looking,” Maia said.

The Shibutanis hope to become the first siblings to win Olympic figure skating medals together since 1992.

Madison Chock/Evan Bates
Two world championships medals
2015 U.S. champions
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 3

When Davis and White stepped away from competition, Chock and Bates ascended atop U.S. ice dancing, earning a world silver medal in 2015 in their fourth season together.

But that reign ended with the Shibutanis’ first national title two years ago. Chock and Bates have lost six straight head-to-heads between the two couples.

“There have been some trying moments in the last few seasons,” Bates said.

They leaned on each other. Chock and Bates began dating around Christmas 2016, eight years after they went on three dates that never materialized.

Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
Four-time U.S. bronze medalists
Fourth at 2017 Grand Prix Final
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 2

They are sick of bronze, but third place in U.S. ice dance is enough to make it to the Olympics. Hubbell and Donohue are on the upswing.

“We’re making progress on the teams we would really like to overcome,” said Hubbell, who missed the three-couple 2014 Olympic team with Donohue by finishing fourth at those nationals.

At last season’s Grand Prix Final, they beat Chock and Bates for the first time since 2012. Then they did it again at this season’s Grand Prix Final, where they also outscored the Shibutanis in the free dance. Hubbell and Donohue have never defeated the Shibutanis for a full competition, though.

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