Colton Wood/NBC Sports Figure Skating

Dance party: Before the ice dance final, Hubbell, Bates’ families gather for Little Caesars Arena-style tailgate

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By Colton Wood

DETROIT – Madison Hubbell’s uncle Steve Dedoes played “We Are the Champions” on his trumpet, embraced the frigid Michigan weather and chanted “Defense!” Saturday afternoon in a parking lot just blocks from Little Caesars Arena.

After all, who could blame him; he was having a celebration that was a year in the making.

Dedoes was geographically restricted to watching his niece win the 2018 U.S. ice dance title with Zachary Donohue from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so when nationals came to Detroit this year, it gave Dedoes the opportunity to have a long-overdue reception with family and friends.

When it was announced in September nationals was coming to Detroit, Dedoes’ son, Mattie, without thinking twice, proposed the family attend Hubbell’s title defense and host a tailgate during the hours leading up to her skate.

“It’s not a thought,” said Mattie Dedoes, Maddie’s cousin who grew up attending tailgates for University of Michigan football games. “It’s just what you do.”

Mattie Dedoes admitted he was, in a way, joking about the tailgate, but when his family gathered together for Christmas, he realized his idea was actually going to come to fruition.

“For us, it’s not that we’re lunatic sports fans, it’s just an opportunity to have fun,” Steve Dedoes said. “Our family, I wouldn’t say we do everything together. We’ve never been to one of Madison’s events now that she’s on the top rung of the ladder.”

Steve Dedoes is a big fan of Michigan sports, so supporting his niece reach skating stardom has brought the fan of a city struggling to become relevant in sports again great relief.

“We get to root for a winner for a change!” Dedoes shouted Saturday.

The scene at the tailgate before Saturday’s free dance. Colton Wood/NBC Sports Figure Skating

Maddie’s mom, Sue Hubbell (also known for creating her daughter’s on-ice costumes), reached out to Donohue’s and Evan Bates’ family about the tailgate, hoping to collaborate to form one immense tailgate. They instantly agreed.

“I love being outside,” said Dee Eggert, Donohue’s mother. “I don’t like being in the stress of the arena, so I’d rather be outside just having a good time and not thinking about the stuff to come.”

Eggert said she often tailgates for football and other popular events but has never thought about tailgating for a figure skating competition.

“Nobody has ever done this that I know of,” she said. “It’s mainly the big sports – football, baseball. We do them at those, but skating is more of sitting in a lounge and drinking a glass of wine.”

MORE: Figure Skating in Detroit unites Olympians, opportunity and life skills for young girls

Michaela Kearsey, Hubbell’s best friend who lives in Scotland, learned of the tailgate and Hubbell’s family’s plans to attend her title defense, and decided to come home from Scotland earlier than planned.

Kearsey met Hubbell when she moved down from the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and started skating at the Lansing Skating Club.

Though she no longer skates with Hubbell and despite the Atlantic Ocean stationed between the two longtime friends, they still keep in touch.

“Thank goodness for technology,” she said. “We just text and send voice messages through WhatsApp. I got married last summer. Her and my sister were co-maids of honor, so we did a lot of wedding planning via WhatsApp.”

On Saturday, Kearsey ate, drank and enjoyed the company of Hubbell’s family and friends.

When Steve Dedoes brought together everyone to pose for a picture during the tailgate, Dedoes brought out the iconic D-fence sign and started chanting “Defense!”

“Defense!” Colton Wood/NBC Sports Figure Skating

Kearsey watched as Dedoes referred to Hubbell and Donohue’s title defense and began to laugh.

The ability to experience her best friend carve her own path through the figure skating realm, Kearsey said, has been incredible.

“It’s been really fun watching her journey,” she said. “When I was over in [Scotland] studying, I was able to go see a few of her competitions in Europe, which was really cool. It’s different coming from skating myself; I’m getting the sense now of how our moms used to get so nervous watching.”

Nancy Bates, the mother of Evan Bates, said the tailgate felt like a family reunion.

“We have 50 family members here, and they came from all over the country,” Nancy Bates said. “They’ll come once a year somewhere – usually nationals. It’s like a family reunion.”

Nancy Bates said she rarely gets to see her son, who moved to Montreal with partner Madison Chock, because of his hectic skating schedule, but said she goes to the majority of his competitions.

The families stood for hours in sub-freezing temperatures, prioritizing family and friends over warmth and celebrating their loved ones’ success in figure skating.

“We’re going to be drinking until midnight and miss the [ice dance] event,” Steve Dedoes said. “Just kidding.”

MORE: Skaters’ ties to Detroit add local flavor to U.S. Championships 

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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Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

Nathan Chen
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Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

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French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

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No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

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