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Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue win Skate Canada, into Grand Prix Final

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Ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue wasted no time, becoming the first skaters to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final by winning the first two Grand Prix events.

The U.S. champions and world silver medalists followed their maiden Skate America title last week by holding on for a Skate Canada victory Saturday, despite being beaten in the free dance.

Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov became the first couple to better Hubbell and Donohue in a program this season but could not make up a 5.83-point deficit from Friday’s rhythm dance.

The Americas won by 5.59 in Laval, Quebec, getting docked a point for an extended lift in an otherwise strong performance.

“We were feeling the two weeks fatigue today,” Hubbell said, according to the International Skating Union. “It was a pretty tough free dance, not without mistakes, but overall we were very pleased with how we were able to face these challenges.”

MORE: Skate Canada Results | Grand Prix TV Schedule

Hubbell and Donohue, who finished fourth in PyeongChang after he fell in the free dance, reached their fourth straight Grand Prix Final. The event is the most exclusive in the sport, taking the top six per discipline from the fall Grand Prix series.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the only U.S. ice dancers to win the title, doing so five straight times from 2009-13 before becoming the first American ice dance gold medalists in Sochi.

Hubbell and Donohue have yet to earn a Grand Prix Final medal but will surely be favored for the podium this year. That’s in part because Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada are likely done competing and bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are also taking this season off.

Whether Hubbell and Donohue enter the Final in Vancouver as favorites will largely depend on the performances of their training partners, Olympic silver medalists and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.

Papadakis and Cizeron make their season debut in two weeks at NHK Trophy.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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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Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

Sam Girard
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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

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