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Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue successfully defend ice dance national title

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DETROIT — Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue successfully defended their ice dance national title, defeating two teams that train with them in Montreal in order to do so on Saturday night.

The 2018 Worlds silver medalists and Grand Prix Final champions scored 131.32 in the free dance to tally 215.88 total points.

“This performance more than ever before, Zach and I were really connected,” Hubbell said before receiving the team’s medals. “We kept looking into each other’s eyes. We created a bubble… to open our bubble and see everybody standing, it was really special.”

“[We] have really been on a journey of recreating who we are… coming into this it was a whole new event; a whole new nationals,” Donohue added.

Hubbell and Donohue mentioned over the course of the season so far that their free dance had been evolving to better tell the story of Romeo and Juliet.

Here at nationals, they received six 10s for their program component score (PCS) under “interpretation of the music/timing.” They received three additional 10s for “performance.” No other PCS score was below 9.50 points.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, competing for just the second time this month after being out for 10 months due to injury, finished with silver medals. The 2015 national champions scored 129.19 in the free dance for a total of 211.52 points.

Chock and Bates were both spotted lip syncing throughout their free dance.

“We didn’t mean to do that,” Chock admitted. “I was just having so much fun, and I enjoyed the song. It’s just such a fun, different piece of music. You don’t see too many upbeat pieces in the free dance… I think it’s just really nice to show that contrast and really dance because our program is so much about dance.”

“I honestly have not had as much fun on competitive ice before,” Bates added. “I feel like we’re skating from a place of gratitude more so than ever and I think it’s coming through with our skating.”

The third Montreal-based team, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, won the bronze. They had never finished higher than fourth place at a U.S. Championships. The last skaters of the night, Hawayek and Baker earned 120.18 in the free dance for a total score of 196.95 points.

Results: Ice dance final

Before the event, the families of the top teams gathered outside Little Caesars Arena for a tailgate party. With the top teams in Montreal, opportunities for the Detroit-area families to see their relatives compete were slim.

U.S. ice dance champions of the past were on hand during the medal ceremony, where the top three teams plus pewter medalists (fourth place) finishers Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter received flowers, congratulations, and their new hardware.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the 2014 Olympic ice dance gold medalists, Tenith White (formerly Belbin) and Ben Agosto, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists, and two-time Olympians Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow were all part of the awards show for the ice dancers.

MORE: Papadakis, Cizeron win fifth consecutive European ice dance 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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Bernard Lagat reminded of Atlanta Games at U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials

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ATLANTA — As 45-year-old Bernard Lagat sat inside a hotel overlooking Centennial Olympic Park, he spoke one sentence that prefaced the start of his Olympic journey more than two decades ago.

“We are doing this in a special place,” he said of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, which finish at the park on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

Lagat is an underdog, but has a chance to make a sixth Olympic team by placing in the top three. He can break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history.

Lagat was reminded this week of the Atlanta Olympics that got away.

In 1996, the Kenyan-born runner was coming off his freshman year at Jomo Kenyatta University Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi. He studied mathematics and computer science.

Lagat debuted at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. He remembered finishing seventh in the 1500m, having exhausted himself by clocking a 3:37 semifinal.

“They had fancy shoes, nice clothing,” he said of the pros. “Me, I was like hand-me-down spikes.”

Lagat’s coach at the time, Nganga Ngata, arranged for him to transfer to Washington State later that summer. But first, Lagat watched on TV the Olympic 1500m final — famous for then-world-record holder Noureddine Morceli and current world-record holder Hicham El Guerrouj making contact at the bell; El Guerrouj fell, Morceli won.

Days later, Lagat headed to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. He was to fly to the United States for the first time, embarking on a journey that would lead to U.S. Olympic teams in 2008, 2012 and 2016 after he represented Kenya in 2000 and 2004.

Before a 21-year-old Lagat boarded his flight, he encountered a reception. The Kenyan Olympic team was arriving back from Atlanta after collecting eight medals, including in every men’s distance-running event.

“They had all these celebrations, traditional milk and the gourds,” Lagat said. “Oh, it was amazing. … That fire, seeing them coming home with medals, and I thought, I want to be like those guys.”

Lagat went on to earn eight combined Olympic and world championships medals between the 1500m and 5000m. Lagat qualified for one last Olympics on the track in 2016, going from sixth place at the bell to win the trials 5000m. He was fifth in Rio.

Then he turned to the marathon. Lagat has raced two of them. He clocked 2:17:20 in New York City in 2018, saying he was “running blind” with inexperience. He ran 2:12:10 at the 2019 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, ranking him outside the 20 fastest Americans in this Olympic cycle.

Lagat went back to Kenya last month to train for the trials with the likes of world-record holder Eliud Kipchoge. Lagat soaked up so much that he likened it to a six-week school term.

At one point, Lagat was part of a 30km training run with Kipchoge. By the end he rounded a bend and saw the Olympic favorite just 60 seconds ahead.

“You think about Eliud being 60 seconds ahead of you in a 30K?” an incredulous Lagat said. “I thought, I’m done. Now I can buy my flight and go back to USA. I’m ready.”

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MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic marathon trials

Chris Lillis, after missing Olympics, back atop aerials podium

Andrey Kulagin
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U.S. men’s aerials skiers had gone four years between World Cup victories. Now, they’ve won back-to-back events.

Chris Lillis prevailed in Kazakhstan on Friday, six days after Justin Schoenefeld ended the U.S.’ longest men’s victory drought since aerials became an Olympic medal sport in 1994.

Lillis, the 21-year-old brother of 2017 World champion Jon Lillis, landed a double full-full-full in the super final to score 121.27 points. Full results are here. He beat a field that included Schoenefeld (sixth place) and his older brother (14th) but lacked the world’s best from China and Russia.

“That was definitely one of the best jumps of my career,” Chris Lillis said. “Moving forward I’m feeling deadly.”

Chris has earned back-to-back World Cup podiums, his first top-three finishes since missing the PyeongChang Olympics with a torn ACL.

Also Friday, American Megan Nick finished second in the women’s event for her second runner-up this season. The last U.S. woman to win a World Cup was Kiley McKinnon on Jan. 6, 2018.

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MORE: Olympic aerials champion retires to coach