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Three questions with Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue before U.S. Championships

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue broke through the U.S. ice dance field to win their first national title in 2018. This year, they come back to defend – but their resumes are so much stronger this year.

The Montreal-based team most recently won the Grand Prix Final after sweeping both their assignments earlier in the fall.

At their media teleconference ahead of nationals, they spoke candidly with reporters about how they’re preparing for the competition (“jovially,” said Donohue) and the purpose behind the tweaks to their programs audiences will see in Detroit.

The rhythm dance is Jan. 25 and the free dance is Jan. 26.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Their families are all-in on building the competitive atmosphere surrounding nationals.

Madison Hubbell: My extended family has very rarely been able to see me skate live. They were able to come to Stars on Ice at the same arena, Little Ceasars Arena, this past spring. I think my uncle, mainly, uncle and my cousin, are just obsessive sports fans. For them, to go to the Little Ceasars Arena, is like, it calls for a celebration. ‘You’re gonna skate in this big arena, and we’re gonna do it the way these other sports do it.’ They called the arena, everybody’s confirmed that it is possible for them to do a tailgate. They are arranging it and they’re also arranging it with Kaitlin Hawayek’s parents and Evan Bates’ parents.

Zach Donohue: It’s gonna be lit!

MH: It’s gonna be all of our families. We’re extending the invitation of course to the families of the other athletes who will be around that day. Hopefully we’ll get a lot of really excited family and friends coming into the arena with a lot of energy. They’ve never done this before. Unfortunately, we’ll be skating so it’s not like we can join, but it sounds really fun.

ZD: I’m just concerned that it’s gonna happen like, too nicely, and then I’ll miss one of the events. Is that acceptable? How do we feel?

MH: Maybe they’ll be like, ‘man, I’m really sorry guys, we missed you actually. We were having too much fun outside.’

ZD: ‘Sorry about that!’

2. Momentum might build up their confidence, but they still take competitions one step at a time.

ZD: I don’t know if momentum is the right word. It’s always nice to be able to look back and see your hard work come to bear fruit. I think for sure gives you a boost of confidence in your abilities. Honestly, if anything, it just motivates us for more. Once you’ve had a taste of achieving your dream, it’s kind of hard to shy away from that. I would say that it’s definitely motivating.

MH: We take it competition by competition. I agree there’s a momentum based on knowing that our equation is working, the things that we’re doing here in training are working to continue improving what we’re capable of. But it isn’t a momentum because it’s a different competition with a different panel [of judges] and different competitors every time. We’re not taking it as winning the last four competitions made us unbeatable at nationals. It’s a completely different story. But at least we know going home from Vancouver [the Grand Prix Final] that the thing we were doing in training were working. We didn’t have to change the formula.

3. Making changes to their programs helps them tell the story better, especially in their free dance.

ZD: We changed the music just to mess with you – just kidding!

MH: We don’t consider it too major, but we changed the order of elements. The one-foot section will go earlier in the program because we felt like with the story, it made more sense to finish the dance spin at the end of the program where it’s a very intimate moment between the two of us. We can be very close compared to the one-foot section where we’re separated. It felt a little incomplete to tell the story of the last moments where you’re with the love of your life and you have to let go of them. We changed those elements around in order to make more sense within the story.

MORE: Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

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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IOC pledges €500,000 to help restore Notre Dame ahead of 2024 Olympics

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The International Olympic Committee plans to donate €500,000 ($562,000) to the restoration of Notre Dame Cathedral in the 2024 Olympic host city.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that he wants to see Notre Dame restored within five years.

“The aim of completing the reconstruction in time for Paris 2024 will be an extra motivation for all of us,” IOC president Thomas Bach wrote in a Wednesday letter to Paris 2024 chief Tony Estanguet, according to a translation by Agence France-Presse, which reported Notre Dame is on the planned marathon and road cycling routes. “All the Olympic Movement and in particular the IOC have been extremely touched by the instantaneous connection the French have made between Notre Dame cathedral and the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”

More than $500 million has been pledged overall from around the globe after a fire ravaged the 850-year-old cathedral on Monday.

NBC News has more on the Notre Dame fire here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Patrick Kane joined by NHL All-Stars on world championship roster

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NHL All-Stars Jack EichelRyan Suter and Cory Schneider join previously named captain Patrick Kane to lead the U.S. at next month’s world hockey championship in Slovakia, seeking the nation’s first title at a standalone worlds since 1933.

Sixteen players were added to the roster in Thursday’s announcement with more to come before worlds open May 10 and more teams get eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, making more players available. The IIHF allows up to 25 players per nation.

Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill will be the U.S. head coach for a third straight worlds. The Americans lost in the quarterfinals in 2017 and earned bronze in 2018, sandwiching an Olympic quarterfinal exit in PyeongChang without NHL players.

Sweden is trying to become the first nation to three-peat at worlds since the Czech Republic in 2001.

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Preliminary IIHF World Championship Roster
Forwards

Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks)
Jack Eichel (Buffalo Sabres)
Luke Glendening (Detroit Red Wings)
Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)
Clayton Keller (Arizona Coyotes)
Chris Kreider (New York Rangers)
Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings)
James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia Flyers)
Frank Vatrano (Florida Panthers)
Colin White (Ottawa Senators)

Defensemen
Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks)
Alec Martinez (Los Angeles Kings)
Brady Skjei (New York Rangers)
Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild)

Goalies
Thatcher Demko (Vancouver Canucks)
Cayden Primeau (Laval (AHL))
Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils)