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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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Adam Rippon makes Olympic figure skating team, completing journey

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Adam Rippon was given a T-shirt two years ago emblazoned with what became his motto.

“I’m like a witch,” was Rippon’s famous quote after winning a breakthrough U.S. title in 2016, “and you can’t kill me.”

It’s been 10 years since Rippon won the first of back-to-back world junior titles. His time as a senior skater has been far less successful, but he took every failure and setback and kept on going.

The latest came Saturday night for the 28-year-old, the oldest man in the U.S. Championships field.

Rippon fell on a quadruple Lutz and singled the last two jumps of his free skate in San Jose, dropping from second after the short program to fourth place overall.

A committee picks the three-man Olympic team based on results from not only nationals but also the last year of competitions.

Those errors put Rippon’s spot in jeopardy, but he still had an argument as the second-best U.S. man behind Nathan Chen this fall.

The committee deliberated Saturday night.

They put Rippon on the team Sunday morning with Chen and U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. They left off Ross Miner, the man who came closest to Chen at nationals (albeit still more than 40 points behind).

Miner was a surprise podium finisher Saturday night and had no other strong results from the last two years. Zhou at least had the 2017 U.S. silver medal and world junior title to his name.

“Ross does amazing at U.S. Championships, but frankly he has struggled at some of the international competitions,” U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier said. “We weren’t sure when we put him out at the Olympics that he would perform to the extent that there was a possibility for a medal.”

The first thing Rippon did upon finding out he was named to the team was text Miner. (One of Miner’s coaches, Mark Mitchell, was third at 1992 Nationals and left off that Olympic team for Todd Eldredge‘s injury waiver.)

Rippon said he was proud of the way Miner skated Saturday, and understands the ups and downs of a skating career — perhaps better than anyone.

“I knew that there was a criteria set to be selected for the Olympic team, and I feel like I have better criteria than second and third place here,” Rippon said Saturday night. “But that being said, Vincent and Ross skated well tonight, and no matter what the selection is I will be 100 percent OK and can handle that. My Grand Prixs are better than everybody’s except for Nathan’s.”

The week before nationals, Rippon was not confident. He was cocky.

“My mentality going into San Jose is that this is just going to be my coronation,” he said. “The only argument [against me] is if other competitors’ mothers are on the selection committee.”

Rippon missed the Olympic team in 2010, crashing into the boards at nationals and placing fifth. Fine, he was only 20 years old.

He missed the Olympic team in 2014, despite being the most consistent U.S. man that fall season. He was eighth at nationals.

Rippon considered quitting but returned to training that summer.

“My biggest fear was that I would get fat,” he said.

Working under gruff Armenian coach Rafael Arutyunyan in Southern California, Rippon went from pariah to performer over the next two seasons.

He defied what he felt were urges from those in skating for him to retire.

He earned U.S. silver in 2015 and gold in 2016, though still struggling to master a quadruple jump. (He hasn’t landed a clean, fully rotated quad in competition in more than one year.)

In October 2015, he came out in a U.S. Figure Skating magazine article.

“I want to be a relatable example,” Rippon, the oldest of six children, said in the article. “And I want to say something to the dad out there who might be concerned that his son is a figure skater. I mean look at me; I’m just a normal son from small-town Pennsylvania. Nothing changed.”

Saturday marked exactly one year since Rippon broke his foot in practice, an injury that forced him to miss last season’s nationals and worlds, two events that matter in U.S. Figure Skating’s selection criteria.

“I won’t take this lying down, which is, ironically, exactly what I’m doing right now,” Rippon said last January as he spent 12 weeks off the ice.

Rippon brought his hospital bracelet with him to San Jose this past week and reflected on it before Saturday’s program.

“I thought how far I had come in that whole year, and I thought, oh my God, this is my day of redemption,” he said. “Now I know every January 6, I will take a sabbatical. I will be on the Maldives on a yoga retreat.”

He came back this season to earn silver medals in both of his Grand Prix starts this fall.

Including at Skate America, where he dislocated his shoulder during his free skate, popped it back in and outscored Chen for the program (video).

“I love drama, so I said, you know what, I can make it through this,” Rippon said that night in Lake Placid, N.Y. “I wanted to show my character, that I’m really tough, and I’m up for the challenge of anything, including the Olympic Games.”

He joined Chen as the only U.S. men to qualify outright for December’s Grand Prix Final. That event takes the top six men in the world from the fall Grand Prix season. He was fifth there, but took confidence going into nationals.

“I take whatever situation I’m in, and I spin it like it’s the most positive thing that’s ever happened to me,” Rippon said Saturday night.

The committee helped with that on Sunday. Rippon is going to PyeongChang.

“I know sometimes everybody thinks I have a big mouth,” he said Sunday morning. “Sometimes I, like, put my foot in my mouth, but I wear my heart on my sleeve. I say those things because sometimes my sense of humor gets me through hard situations.

“I’m so grateful that, no matter what, I continue to skate because I’m such a stronger person, and I’m a lot braver than I thought I ever could be.”

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Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim named sole U.S. pair for 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

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Married couple and pairs team Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim were selected as the pair to represent the United States at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, U.S. Figure Skating announced on Sunday. The U.S. only had a single pairs quota spot at the Games, its fewest spots since the first Winter Olympics in 1924 in Chamonix, France.

The Knierims are the first married U.S. pair to make an Olympics in 20 years, since Jenni Meno and Todd Sand at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Scimeca Knierim and Knierim won the national title in 2015 and 2018, but the years in between weren’t an easy ride. Starting in April 2016, Scimeca Knierim began suffering from a debilitating stomach illness. She was even throwing up the night before her wedding to Knierim in June 2016. They missed most of the season, returning to competitive ice at the 2017 Four Continents Championships. Incidentally, that event took place inside the same venue that will host 2018 Olympic figure skating.

“This proves that everything I went through was so worth it,” Scimeca Knierim said in a press conference. “I’ll never forget how hard we had to work to get back to the place that we are now.”

The pair has been the U.S.’ strongest, partly due to their high-flying signature element, the quad twist. They are the first U.S. pair to execute the element in competition, doing so en route to their first national title in 2015. They brought it back for 2018 nationals, when Scimeca Knierim’s stomach had healed enough to start training the element in earnest.

At the past three world championships, the Knierims have been the top placing U.S. team:

  • 2017: 10th
  • 2016: 9th
  • 2015: 7th

As the only pair team for the U.S. in South Korea, the Knierims will be responsible for the team event competition short program and free skate on top of the pairs event short program and free skate in the span of about a week. Scimeca Knierim said because they train at altitude in Colorado Springs, Colorado, their bodies would hold up. Plus, she said, she has a spirit that would compete forever; at their first Olympics, they’re seeing this extra responsibility as an honor.

The Knierims join the singles skaters named to the team earlier: Nathan Chen, Adam Rippon, and Vincent Zhou for the men, plus Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu, and Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan).

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the 2016 U.S. champions and this year’s silver medalists, were named as the alternate team. Kayne suffered a concussion in the 2017 nationals short program and had to withdraw, then recovered from an unrelated knee surgery for much of this season. Kayne and O’Shea only returned to competition in December.

MORE: Adam Rippon makes Olympic figure skating team, completing journey

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