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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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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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