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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

World Cup Alpine season opener gets green light

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After checking the snow on the Rettenbach glacier in Soelden, Austria, FIS officials announced Thursday that the traditional World Cup season opener is set to go ahead as planned Oct. 26-27 with men’s and women’s giant slalom races.

Current conditions at Soelden show a solid 30 inches of snow at the summit. The race finishes at an altitude of 2,670 meters (8,760 feet), far above the currently snowless village.

The first races of the season are never guaranteed to have enough snow, though last year’s men’s race at Soelden had the opposite problem, being canceled when a storm blew through with heavy snowfall and high winds. 

France’s Tessa Worley won the women’s race last year ahead of Italy’s Frederica Brignone and U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who would go on to dominate the rest of the World Cup season.

The Soelden weekend is followed by three dormant weeks until the season resumes Nov. 23-24 in Levi, Finland. The World Cup circuits then switch to North America. The men will run speed events Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Lake Louise, Alberta, then head to Beaver Creek, Colo., for more speed events and a giant slalom Dec. 6-8. The women run slalom and giant slalom Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Killington, Vt., and head to Lake Louise the next weekend.

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Olympic marathon and race walk move from Tokyo to Sapporo draws some pushback

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In the wake of a dropout-plagued set of world championship endurance races in Qatar, moving the 2020 Olympic marathons and race walks from Tokyo to the cooler venue of Sapporo is a quick fix for one problem, pending the potential for untimely heat waves.

But the move has drawn some opposition for a variety of reasons.

First, many organizers and politicians appear to have been caught by surprise. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, was “taken aback” and Sapporo’s mayor, Katsuhiro Akimoto, learned about the move from the media, Kyodo News reported. Koike even sarcastically suggested that the races could move all the way northward to islands disputed by Russia and Japan.

South African sports scientist Ross Tucker suggested that running in heat and humidity poses an interesting challenge for athletes, some of whom may be able to catch up with faster runners by preparing for the conditions.

British marathoner Mara Yamauchi made a similar point, saying the move was unfair to those who already were preparing for the heat, humidity and other conditions.

Belgian marathoner Koen Naert said he will make the best of the change but complained that some of his preparation and every runner’s logistical planning would no longer apply.

The angriest athlete may be Canadian walker Evan Dunfee, who placed fourth in the 2016 Olympic 50km race and nearly claimed bronze as a Canadian appeal was upheld but then rejected. He says runners and walkers can beat the conditions if they prepare, which many athletes did not do for the world championships in Qatar.

“So why do we cater to the ill prepared?” Dunfee asked on Twitter.

The move also takes athletes out of the main Olympic city and takes away the traditional, tough less frequent in modern years, finish in the Olympic stadium.

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