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Checking in with Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue ahead of world championships

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue won their second consecutive national title in January, then went on to compete at the Four Continents Championships in Anaheim in February. They finished fourth and now look toward their next stop at the world championships in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24.

NBCSports.com/figure-skating spoke to Hubbell and Donohue in Detroit after nationals about what they did to feel extra-inspired before their free dance and what exactly is the “Hubbell Bubble.”

Madison, you had a new costume for the rhythm dance at nationals. Did your mom make this one as well?

Hubbell: Yes, she did. Zach gets his done in Montreal. It’s just proven easier. His body has changed since going to Montreal, putting on a lot of muscle. My mom has a body dummy of me so it’s very easy for her to send things. We don’t really need a fitting. But for him it’s just easier to get them done in Montreal.

But yeah, she made this dress. It’s been a thought in the back of our head to keep creating dresses. She likes doing it and I like having many options! For example, we didn’t know which one to wear here [in Detroit]. The red one that we were wearing previously, blends in exactly with the Red Wings color [who also play inside the Little Caesars Arena, where nationals was held]. So, we were like, oh I guess it’s the dark red! It gives us options to see how each dress looks in the rink and what will pop better.

And she got to see it in person.

Hubbell: And she got to see it in person which was a nice treat.

Did you get to see your family post-tailgate? 

Donohue: A little bit.

Hubbell: We met up and saw them yesterday, they were still rowdy. They had their “D-Fence” signs. They had a lot of fun. They’ve been so far removed from our career, in a way. They’re supportive behind the scenes, but financially it hasn’t been an option for them to travel always with us to every competition. They’ve gotten used to kind of watching from afar.

Is your free dance in a place where you want it to be? Are you telling the story the way you want to at this point in the season?

Donohue: We want to bring out more the interpretation of the story itself, but I don’t foresee any big changes for the program.

Hubbell: That’s the thing. We watched the movie before the free dance. It’s the first time actually that we watched it together – I’ve seen it many times. But it’s such an iconic story. On top of that, an iconic breakthrough performance for both of those actors. It’s hard to compete with the emotion they bring to their characters.

Certainly, that’s something we’ll keep developing. We have really good resources for that, someone who can help us with the theatrical side of it back in Montreal. With all of the changes that we’ve been making over the last two months, our focus was less on that. We just didn’t have the time in the day. We relied on the fact that we feel connected to the music but we haven’t really put the time in that we want in the story development.

I think now as the technical side has really been buckled down, it’s the time where we can grow the emotion. I think that’s what it’s gonna need to take it to the next level and get that crowd reaction and the standing ovation at Worlds.

I heard the Ice Desk analyzers were calling it the “Hubbell Bubble,” the way you guys are in your own world when you’re on the ice.

Hubbell: the “Hubble Bubble!” Aww!

Donohue: Well it’s your bubble.

Hubbell: You can be in my bubble.

It makes for a good hashtag.

Hubbell: It’s good, I like that.

MORE: More mature Mariah Bell has more momentum this year ahead of world championships

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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Richard Callaghan, figure skating coach, banned for life

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Richard Callaghan, a figure skating coach best known for helping Tara Lipinski earn 1998 Olympic gold, was ruled permanently ineligible for violations including sexual misconduct involving a minor.

Callaghan can still appeal the sexual misconduct violation, according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a watchdog for U.S. Olympic sports organizations that updated Callaghan’s status Wednesday.

He was first suspended in March 2018 pending an investigation into allegations first made against him more than 20 years ago.

Earlier this month, another former skater, Adam Schmidt, said in a lawsuit that he was sexually molested as a teenager by Callaghan starting in 1999.

Callaghan was previously accused of sexual misconduct in April 1999 by Craig Maurizi, one of his former students and later an assistant to him in San Diego and Detroit.

Maurizi told The New York Times that Callaghan had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with him beginning when he was 15 years old. The alleged misconduct had begun nearly 20 years earlier. Callaghan denied the allegations.

In March 2018, Callaghan told ABC News: “That’s 19 or 20 years ago. I have nothing to say.”

Maurizi’s previous grievance against Callaghan with the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the precursor to U.S. Figure Skating, was dismissed on procedural grounds.

He was Callaghan’s assistant at the Detroit Skating Club until they split after Lipinski turned pro, left Callaghan and decided to train with Maurizi.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Eight matchups to watch in figure skating Grand Prix Series

Pita Taufatofua, Tonga flag bearer, finishes last in kayak debut

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Pita Taufatofua, the Tonga Olympic flag bearer who went viral in Rio and PyeongChang, began his quest to make a third straight Olympics in a third different sport with a last-place finish in his opening-round heat at the world sprint kayak championships in Hungary on Wednesday.

The start of the heat appeared delayed as Taufatofua struggled to get his kayak into position in the water. He was left at the start as the other six kayakers raced out and finished between 33 and 40 seconds. Taufatofua took 58.19 seconds, the slowest of 53 finishers among seven total heats.

“Well that was slightly better than the first time I competed in Taekwondo or skiing,” was tweeted from Taufatofua’s account. “Would have liked to start facing the right way but that’s life.”

Taufatofua, 35, was the oldest athlete in the heat by nearly a decade. He is also entered in doubles races with Tonga canoe federation president Malakai Ahokava with heats Thursday and Friday.

Taufatofua hopes to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in taekwondo, where he competed in Rio, and in sprint kayak.

But he hasn’t competed in taekwondo in three years and just started training kayak this spring. At worlds, Taufatofua told the BBC he is still having trouble staying afloat in the water.

Taufatofua said in announcing the new sport in April that it would be “largely impossible” to qualify for Tokyo. He could be the first athlete to compete in a different sport in three straight Olympics (Summer and Winter) since the Winter Games began in 1924, according to the OlyMADMen.

“It’s certainly going to be the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had to embark on,” he said then.

Taufatofua’s results at worlds this week has little bearing on his Olympic qualifying prospects. Rather, he just needed to compete in Hungary to stay eligible for the Olympics.

The key will be an Oceania qualifying event early next year, where one Olympic bid is available. He will likely have to beat the best kayakers from Australia and New Zealand to grab it. Australian Stephen Bird placed eighth at the Rio Olympics and 11th at the 2018 World Championships.

If Taufatofua fails, he could receive a special tripartite invitation sometimes offered to smaller nations like Tonga.

Taufatofua became a social-media celebrity by marching into the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony shirtless and oiled up. He then lost in the first round via mercy rule in his taekwondo tournament.

He made a quixotic bid for the PyeongChang Winter Games in cross-country skiing — and accomplished the feat, barely, in a sport that has lenient qualifying requirements for nations with a lack of Winter Games depth.

Taufatofua finished 114th out of 116 in his 15km Olympic cross-country skiing race, nearly 23 minutes behind the winner.

If Taufatofua is able to carry the Tongan flag at a third Opening Ceremony, he will definitely be shirtless again, in a similar outfit to what he wore in Rio and PyeongChang, he said last year.

MORE: Five-time Olympic kayak medalist banned four years

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