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Hubbell and Donohue ahead of ice dance field at U.S. International Classic

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue sit in first place in the ice dance field after their rhythm dance (formerly known as the short dance) scored 79.11 points at Fridays U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s the first true weekend of figure skating competition for the 2018-19 season.

Last season, Hubbell and Donohue won the national title, finished fourth at the Olympics and won silver medals at the world championships.

“We’re reaching a new level in our partnership. It’s fun to play with the dynamics of a new program in competition. More so than the points, we were focused on being one on the ice and feeling each other while creating our own moment,” Donohue said.

Hubbell and Donohue lead fellow Americans Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, who scored 68.61 points, and Canadians Haley Sales and Nikolas Wamsteeker, who earned 54.11 points.

RESULTS: RHYTHM DANCE | LADIES’ SHORT | PAIRS’ FREE | MEN’S FREE

Also Friday, 2018 world bronze Satoko Miyahara from Japan held a slight edge over the rest of the field, scoring 67.53 points. Her triple Lutz, triple toe combination was called under-rotated, as was her triple flip. South Korea’s Eunsoo Lim sits in second with 64.85 points and Olympic team gold medalist Gabrielle Daleman from Canada is third with 63.28 points.

Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc extended their lead on the pairs’ field, winning the event with a total score of 173.05. Despite Cain’s fall on the throw triple Lutz in Thursday’s short program, she saved the landing in the free skate and the element was called clean.

Nam Nguyen from Canada landed two clean quads in the free skate for a total score of 213.52, good enough to hold his lead on the men’s field and win the event. Czech skater Michal Brezina totaled 208.27 points  for second place, while Team USA’s Jimmy Ma held on for bronze with 206.10 points.

Ma’s teammate Vincent Zhou moved up from sixth after the short program to fourth overall after scoring 204.62 points. Both of the 2018 Olympian’s attempted quads were called under-rotated, as well as two of his triples.

“Every competition is a learning experience,” Zhou said. “Whether it’s good or bad, there’s always something to learn. Obviously, this is just the start of my season. I’ve had a difficult summer but have been battling through. I’m really happy just to be here competing and skating. Today I was able to skate for myself and enjoy myself out on the ice.”

Competition continues Saturday in Salt Lake with the ladies’ free skate and free dance, streaming live on NBC Sports’ Gold Figure Skating Pass (more on that here).

At Lombardia Trophy in Italy on Friday, 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva from Russia handily won the ladies’ event with 206.07 points. She attempted her trademark triple Axel, but was given negative Grades of Execution on the element, likely for stepping out of the landing. Russians Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert won the pairs’ event, tallying 196.15 points. The men’s and dance events conclude Saturday in Italy.

Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

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Nathan Chen called into his media teleconference from the rink last week, still on his winter break between his freshman semesters at Yale University.

The signal wasn’t great inside, he said, and it momentarily spared him from answering a direct question about his GPA his first semester as a college student.

Back on the call, the reigning world champion admitted, “I’m not gonna say the exact number, but there are some A’s and B’s sprinkled in.

“Really no complaints. I got pretty good grades. I’m pretty happy with that.”

His skating report card from the fall reads equally as impressively. Chen won the title at Skate America to open the season, followed by a come-from-behind win at Grand Prix France. To cap it all off, he won a second-consecutive Grand Prix Final title.

All this while the 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist is across the country from his longtime coach Rafael Arutunian and trying out telecoaching for the first time.

Back in California between semesters, Chen said Raf has asked him to stay full-time.

“Since the past two weeks that I’ve been here, literally every day he’s been like, ‘you gotta come back! You gotta come back! There’s so much that you can learn at the rink. I respect what your decision is at Yale but it’s been so great having you here.’ He really wishes that I could stay here full time but at the same time, I already started this path and I don’t really want to pull out just yet.”

As for his second semester in college, Chen is signed up for about 10 courses and will have about two weeks at the beginning of term to add and drop courses. He’ll be in classes – he’s not exactly sure which, though – for a week before attempting to notch his third-straight U.S. national title.

“I selected a bunch of courses, probably selected like 10 different courses. I’ll go in and the first week I will see which courses I like, which courses I don’t like.”

Competing during the spring semester might be harder. February’s Four Continents Championships, this year to be held in Anaheim, Calif., aren’t during a scheduled academic break. Conveniently, world championships are scheduled during Yale’s spring break.

“I’m not sure yet [if he’ll compete there if named to the team],” he said. “That’s still TBD. I would love to since it’s in California, and it’s a great event. We’ll see.”

But for now, competing well in Detroit is the next step.

“I have to skate as well as I can and regardless of the external things,” he said when asked if coming in as the reigning world champion or as the favorite affects him. “Just focus on all the things that I can do right now in training to make sure that I do the best I can in competition.”

The men’s short program is Jan. 26 followed by the free skate on Jan. 27.

MORE: Adam Rippon’s new year’s resolutions

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Mikaela Shiffrin wins Kronplatz giant slalom for her 10th win of the season

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Mikaela Shiffrin won the women’s giant slalom at the World Cup stop in Kronplatz, Italy, on Tuesday, marking her 10th victory of the 2018-19 season and 53rd World Cup win of her career. Shiffrin, the 2018 Olympic giant slalom gold medalist, led France’s Tessa Worley by 1.39 seconds after the first run. Although Worley outpaced Shiffrin in the second run, Shiffrin’s massive first-run margin allowed her to win the two-run event by 1.21 seconds. Italy’s Marta Bassino placed third. Full results are here. 

Shiffrin entered Kronplatz ranked third in the World Cup giant slalom standings, but moves into first place with the win. The 23-year-old also leads the overall World Cup leader board, as well as the slalom and super-G discipline standings. Shiffrin has won seven World Cup globes in her career (two overall, five slalom).

Shiffrin has already broken multiple records this season, including becoming the youngest skier to win 50 World Cup races, and there are still more records within striking distance. Shiffrin could break the record for most World Cup wins in a single seasons; the current record (14) was set by Switzerland’s Vreni Schneider in 1988-89.

The next stop for the women’s World Cup is this weekend in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, with two downhills scheduled for Friday and Saturday, and a super-G slated for Sunday. Shiffrin plans to skip the downhills, but enter the super-G. Lindsey Vonn, who missed the start of the season with a knee injury, is expected to make her return to competition in Friday’s downhill.