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Four Continents Reporter’s Notebook: Not-so-stationary lift yields shock result in ice dance

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue arrived in Anaheim, Calif. for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships riding a white-hot winning streak that included their two Grand Prix events, the Grand Prix Final and their second consecutive U.S. Championships.

Their tango rhythm dance in Anaheim went pretty much as planned. Despite the loss of a few points on their steps, they narrowly led the field, including training partners Madison Chock and Evan Bates, heading into the free dance.

On Sunday, the skaters were all smiles as they left the ice after their routine to “Romeo + Juliet.” As they nestled into the kiss-and-cry next to coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, they thought, Hubbell later said, that they had won.

“There are not too many times we feel so strongly (about) a performance,” she said. “We left it all out there.”

Then, their score flashed up: 119.71 points, just fourth-best in the free dance. It dropped them to fourth overall with 201.66 points.

Chock and Bates, who train alongside Hubbell and Donohue in Montreal, performed a highly entertaining free dance to a medley of Michael Buble’s rendition of “Fever” and Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love,” highlighted by eye-catching and unique lifts, to win the free dance and their first Four Continents title with 207.42 points.

So, what happened?

Hubbell and Donohue open their free dance with a stationary lift: Donohue holding Hubbell aloft while rotating in place. As it turns out, it was not stationary enough, and the technical panel dropped it to base level, meaning it earned only a single point. That’s more than four points less than Hubbell and Donohue were counting on.

“It’s a lift we’ve done over and over again this season. They (the technical panel) saw it all week in practice,” Hubbell said. “It was definitely shocking to hear they did not count it as a stationary lift. It’s certainly unfortunate, we would have loved to stand on top of that podium. But we’re incredibly proud of our performance, that mark doesn’t change that.”

Replay of the lift shows Donohue traveling, and the technical panel – including Helena Gordon-Poltarak, chair of the ISU ice dancing technical committee – determined that was enough to drop the element down.

“We were told that it initially got called a Level 4 (the highest level), but upon review we were told that a stationary lift traveled just enough to not be called stationary, so it was dropped to base value,” Hubbell said. “That’s what we know so far.”

The couple also lost about two points or so on their spin, which gained just Level 2.

It’s a safe bet that Lauzon, a noted taskmaster, will be drilling the U.S. champions in these elements, as well as their rhythm dance step sequences, upon their return to Montreal.

The couple are putting a positive spin on the loss.

“We already know the (technical) panel who is going to be at the world championships and its tough,” Hubbell said. “This is kind of a good wake-up call.”

“My favorite thing is proving people wrong,” Donohue said.

Four Continents reporter’s notebook: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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Kristoffersen topples Hirscher to win giant slalom at worlds

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ARE, Sweden — Norwegian skiing is in safe hands, even with its beloved king now in retirement.

Henrik Kristoffersen gave Norway its second individual gold medal of the world championships by toppling an under-the-weather Marcel Hirscher to win the giant slalom on Friday.

With Kjetil Jansrud also victorious in the downhill last week, Norway appears in great shape heading into the post-Aksel Lund Svindal era.

Svindal signed off his illustrious career with a silver medal behind Jansrud in the downhill, and said he was leaving behind a strong generation of Norwegian skiing talent.

Kristoffersen is at the forefront of that — especially now that he has ended his long wait for a medal at a world championship.

The 24-year-old Kristoffersen had finished fourth in his last three races at the worlds — the giant slalom and slalom in 2017 and the slalom in 2015 — and headed into his second run of the GS in third place behind leader Alexis Pinturault and Hirscher, the favorite and one of skiing’s all-time greats.

However, Kristoffersen produced an aggressive run under the lights, his speed and flow particularly apparent in the bottom section, to win by 0.20 seconds over Hirscher. Pinturault won the bronze medal, 0.42 seconds back.

“It was about time to get a medal,” said Kristoffersen, who wasn’t necessarily expecting it to come in GS.

Kristoffersen’s last win in the discipline came at Meribel in 2015 and he has been consistently behind Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup winner and defending Olympic and world GS champion. He finished second to Hirscher at last year’s Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Kristoffersen was without a win in any discipline for a year but said he gained confidence from the course being doused with salt to maintain the snow surface amid unseasonably warm weather. The temperature in Are for the first leg was 8 C (46 F).

“There’s no one that skis on salt as much as Norwegians do,” he said. “Even though I haven’t trained on salt in GS in a long, long time, I have it from childhood.”

Hirscher’s preparations for the race were affected by a bout of flu that kept him in bed for much of the past two days. He acknowledged after the race that the likelihood of him lining up on the starting gate wasn’t high on Thursday.

“Normally,” Hirscher said, “if you have regular work on those days, you normally tell your boss I’m done for the day.”

Yet he managed to be only 0.10 seconds behind Pinturault after an error-free first run, keeping Hirscher on course for a record-tying seventh gold medal at the worlds. But he went wide at two gates in the top section of his second run, causing him to lose 0.41 seconds on Kristoffersen in the middle section.

“Second place is the first loser but Henrik had an amazing day with two great runs,” Hirscher said. “Henrik is at the top for such a long time. He was more than ready for a world title.”

Hirscher, who was noticeably sniffing after the race, added that he was “looking forward to getting back to bed again” to rest up ahead of Sunday’s slalom.

When Pinturault crossed the finish line in third place, Kristoffersen clenched his fists before walking into the finish area, crouching on one knee and acknowledging the jubilant Norwegian fans in the grandstand.

For Pinturault, it was his second medal of the championships after winning the Alpine combined on Monday.

Wesenberg wins first U.S. skeleton World Cup medal in two years

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With a bronze medal in Lake Placid earlier today, Kendall Wesenberg became the first American to reach the World Cup podium in skeleton in two years.

Wesenberg, who finished 17th at her first Olympics in PyeongChang, had a combined time of 1:51.10 in Lake Placid. Prior to today, her last podium finish at the World Cup was in St. Moritz in January 2017.

“This has never been my strongest track, so we really broke it down piece by piece, and I think it paid off,” Wesenberg said, according to USA Bobsled and Skeleton. “The second run, I kind of tried to throw it away at the top there. By the time I made it to corner 10, I was just thinking ‘build speed, build speed.”

Wesenberg, 28, grew up in California’s Central Valley, but her interest in sliding sports piqued while watching the 2010 Vancouver Games. When the commentators discussed the athletic backgrounds of the athletes, Wesenberg realized she played some of the same sports growing up. A quick Google search brought her to the USA Bobsled and Skeleton page. She told her siblings she was thinking of trying skeleton. They said she’d never do it. Challenge accepted.

Wesenberg emailed a U.S. coach and signed up for a combine and driving training in January 2011. Seven years later, she was sliding on Olympic ice.

Sliding coverage continues today on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, with women’s bobsled live at 3:15 p.m. ET and men’s bobsled live at 4:15.