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Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue starting new holiday traditions

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If anyone has reason to celebrate during this holiday season, it’s defending U.S. ice dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They’ve had an outstanding autumn, which they kicked off by winning their fourth U.S. International Figure Skating Classic and then cemented their place in the ice dancing hierarchy with gold medals at Skate America, Skate Canada and the Grand Prix Final.

This year, they’ll be celebrating Christmas separately. Hubbell is heading home to Sylvania, Ohio with fiancé Adrian Diaz and Donohue is going to England with girlfriend Olivia Smart.

They’re training at the Gadbois Centre in Montreal until Dec. 21, so for now, they’ve brought the holidays into their training base. Hubbell has put up Christmas decorations in her apartment, including a tree, stockings and candles that smell like pine trees.

Donohue decorated both Smart’s apartment and his, with Hubbell’s assistance on the latter. He hosted a holiday get together for the skaters heading off to other destinations. He admitted that he just began his Christmas gift shopping on Saturday.

While it’s pretty cold and snowy in Montreal this time of year, Hubbell and Donohue said the Christmas spirit is evident. “Everybody is out shopping,” said Hubbell, who hoped to check out a Christmas market near where she lives. She’s been following it on Instagram and said it looks lovely.

This is Hubbell’s first Christmas visit home with Diaz. It will be his first American Christmas. Diaz has always lived in a city in an apartment, so the Hubbells’ decorated house will be a big change for him. Also, Hubbell’s mother, Susan, is very detailed in making Christmas stockings.

“My mom has always been like ‘Stockings come first,’” said Hubbell. “She makes these beautiful heirloom stockings and embroiders our names on them. Even this year, we’re not doing any big presents, but we fill our stockings with small gifts, which is really fun. It’s a bunch of little tokens that reminds you of that person. It will be his first year waking up to a stocking that is actually made by my mom, which is really special because she puts so much time into it.”

The house will only be quiet for a short time on Christmas morning. Soon, Hubbell’s older brother, Zach, his wife, Nicole, and four young sons will arrive.

“That’s a lot of energy,” said Hubbell. “You get to wake up with a coffee before the chaos ensues.”

Hubbell’s other brother, Keiffer, her former ice dance partner, will be coming from Michigan.

Smart’s family lives outside Sheffield, England. This will be their first holiday in a new home. They celebrate not only Christmas, but also Boxing Day, which is Dec. 26. Boxing day originated in the United Kingdom, with the origin of the name referring to a Christmas box, containing money or presents, being bestowed to servants or workers. In recent times, it has other interpretations.

“Everyone gets up at 8 a.m. at the latest, and we’re going to go to a cool village that’s got tons of sales on for shopping,” said Donohue. “The first year we started dating we went to the UK and had a huge party with all of her family. Christmas Eve is the bigger celebration.”

Christmas Day will begin with just immediate family in the morning and then Smart’s grandparents will come over. Later, they’ll connect with other relatives.

Following Christmas, Hubbell and Donohue head to Lake Placid, NY for a Stars on Ice performance on Dec. 30. New Year’s celebrations will be fairly low-key, but still festive.

Diaz is from Spain, where they not only celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, but also Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. Hubbell never placed a priority on New Year’s Eve, often falling asleep before the clock struck 12, but celebrating the New Year is a big deal to Diaz.

“It is so important to end it with family and turn over the new year,” said Hubbell. “One of their big traditions is in the last 12 seconds of the year you have to eat 12 grapes.”

Training begins again the first week of January to prepare for the U.S. Championships. They’re excited that the competition will be in Detroit, where they lived and trained for many years. Many of Hubbell’s relatives will be present and they are even planning a tailgating party.

“They’re going to pretend figure skating is like football,” she said.

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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Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

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