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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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Canadian ice dancers overcome hair-raising wardrobe malfunction

Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier
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Ice dancer Piper Gilles‘ hair got caught in partner Paul Poirier‘s costume during the Canadian Championships rhythm dance, but the couple still posted the top score in Mississauga, Ontario, on Friday.

As they spun together, Gilles’ hair appeared to catch on one of Poirier’s shirt buttons. It stayed that way for about five seconds as the couple nearly came to a stop before Poirier untangled it. What was Gilles thinking?

“Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap,” she said later. “It’s probably more swear words to that, but crap at that moment.

“It was like one of those pure panic moments, like, what do I do? Do we stop? Do we keep going? Paul’s like, just keep moving.”

Gilles and Poirier scored 88.86 points, taking an 11.6-point lead into the free dance.

The couple eyes their first national title after finishing second or third seven times in the last eight years behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Gilles and Poirier rank fifth in the world this season.

The panicky moment Friday was reminiscent of the PyeongChang Olympics, where French ice dancer Gabriella Papadakis‘ dress strap broke, exposing her breast. Papadakis and partner Guillaume Cizeron took silver and have been undefeated since.

MORE: Figure skating season TV schedule

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Allison Schmitt opens 2020 in fast form, bidding to join U.S. Olympic legends

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Allison Schmitt, after failing to qualify for world championships teams, revealing a battle with depression and taking nearly two years off competition post-Rio, has a chance to swim at her fourth Olympics this summer. And to do it in an individual event for the first time since 2012.

Schmitt won the 200m freestyle in 1:56.01 at the Tyr Pro Swim Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday night.

The time would have ranked second among Americans in 2019 behind Katie Ledecky. Ledecky is not swimming in Knoxville, but the 2012 Olympic champion and American record holder Schmitt beat Simone Manuel by 1.24 seconds.

“Wish I could say I was tapered, would make it feel a lot easier,” Schmitt said on NBCSN. “Getting better every time I jump in the water and swim in finals.”

Schmitt’s time marked her fastest outside of a major summer meet since the 2012 London Games. She’s bidding to become the third U.S. woman in her 30s to swim an individual event at an Olympics, joining 12-time medalists Dara Torres (who swam in her 40s) and Jenny Thompson.

Full Knoxville results are here. Broadcast coverage of the meet continues Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Swimmers are preparing for June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event qualify for the Tokyo Games, plus extra 100m and 200m free swimmers for relays.

In other events Friday, 18-year-old Carson Foster took the men’s 200m free in 1:47.74, beating the U.S.’ top 400m freestyler, Zane Grothe, by 1.33 seconds.

Foster, younger than any U.S. Olympic male swimmer since a group including Michael Phelps in 2000, is better known for his individual medleys. But the 200m free offers up to six Olympic spots when including the 4x200m free relay.

“Any event where there’s more spots on the line this summer is an event I want to train for,” said Foster, who ranked outside the top 10 in the U.S. in the 200m free in 2019 and beat a field Friday that included none of the six fastest.

Annie Lazor won the 100m breaststroke in 1:06.68, a time congruent with her No. 2 ranking in the U.S. last year behind Olympic champion and world-record holder Lilly King. King, who trains with Lazor, is not competing in Knoxville.

In the 100m butterfly, 29-year-old Amanda Kendall upset top-ranked American Kelsi Dahlia in 57.65 seconds. Regan Smith, the fastest backstroker in history, was second in a personal-best 57.86, followed by Dahlia.

MORE: Australian swim star issues plea after hometown hit by fires

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