Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue already thinking about worlds in Montreal

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Two-time world medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue chatted with NBCSports.com/figure-skating before a show on the Stars on Ice tour, reviewing the recent season and looking ahead to 2020 and a home world championships.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

NBC Sports: Now that we’re a little bit removed from worlds, how would you evaluate your season?

Hubbell: The season felt really long, this one. Most people find that the Olympic season is very, very long, and that was. We jumped right back into it. We didn’t take any extra time in the winter. We did our usual plan, so I think maybe just like two very intense long seasons in a row took a lot of effort.

NBC Sports: It felt like you had a good chunk of your season early, the way you had your Grand Prix events stacked. [They competed at the first two, in the U.S. and Canada.]

Hubbell: It was in little chunks. We competed a lot at the very beginning with a lot of success and that was exciting, a lot of firsts for us. And then we thought we would have a break, which was foolish, on those five weeks. And instead we changed our free dance. We kind of ended up doing that all along the season. Which was great, it was very cool changes in our program through the year but it made it a very demanding, demanding season.

NBC Sports: How will you try and avoid that this year?

Donohue: My goal this year is to just make a program and slowly let it get better instead of changing it at the slightest sign of discomfort or, you know, a misstep or something.

Hubbell: I think it depends on the program. Last year we went for a different type of “Romeo + Juliet.” That was great, but we also knew that it would be a really challenging championship series with so many talented skaters and our goals. And as we were growing as a team, we kept making it more challenging. Hopefully this year, we’re gonna take a lot of time in the off season to create a program. We don’t have a set plan yet for the Grand Prixes, which ones we’re doing, scheduling. But I think it might be possible that we don’t do a senior B, but we just take a little bit more time to really create programs and debut at the Grand Prix.

NBC Sports: Plus, the senior B in Salt Lake City is at altitude!

Donohue: I’m pretty sure I finished last year and I told [coach] Patrice [Lauzon], I said, “I don’t care what you do to me, I’m not doing this competition ever again. Four years in a row was enough.” We’ll see. He might find a way to trick me into it again. It’s not so much the altitude. It’s a very long season when you have to start that early – because you have to prepare. You don’t just compete. You gotta prepare for months ahead of time and that means rushing a bit at the choreographic process. I think that’s one of the things that our teammates have over us is more time to prepare and train. Their season doesn’t really start until the Grand Prix season or even just before.

Hubbell: It depends on the point of your career. We always wanted to go for some experience and world ranking points and everything. But now with our world ranking, there’s not necessarily a reason that we need to go out and be seen so early. We will be already seen by our federation three or four times before the Grand Prixes. We trust our team and all of them to prepare us. It will be nice … we’ll see what the coaches think. We have not confirmed that with them. My desire would be to be able to take a little more time and just show up at Skate America.

NBC Sports: So, what are you thinking next season? Can you talk about your thoughts about the Broadway themes?

Donohue: It’s something we’ve never done separately or together. We’re looking forward to it. It’s a new chapter for sure.

NBC Sports: Your training group is so big. Have there been times where you said, “I wish I had claimed that music first”?

Hubbell: We put a few things down last year and said, “These are a few ideas we’ve had through the year.” Luckily, I think there’s also a little bit of a hierarchy as well. If we came to [the coaches] with the same ideas, some of our skaters allowed us to have first dibs until we make a choice. That’s nice. And for now, we have several options in the air. Now’s the time to go home and try to move to the music. It sounds great in your headphones until you move to it and you’re like “Hmm. That’s harder,” or, “That didn’t play out like I liked.” I think we’ll be able to make a decision in the next month or so.

Editor’s note: A few days after this interview, Hubbell and Donohue revealed on on Instagram that they’ll use music from “A Star is Born” for a program this season. NBCSports.com/figure-skating confirmed it would be their free dance music.

https://www.instagram.com/splashmadison/p/Bw8EKJWJ0pF/?igshid=gzduk3qtizcd

NBC Sports: This is a long-term question, but how great will it be to have a “home” world championships in Montreal? Can you stay in your own bed?

Hubbell: I had a few people messaging me on Instagram saying that I should make a guide to Montreal and put out some stuff about our favorite places to eat or get groceries, just some information for people that are coming. It made me think, “Oh yeah, it’s true, even though it will feel like competition, it’s kind of like a stay-cation where we get to enjoy the city in a different way.”

NBC Sports: Do you think the U.S. skaters will come to you for that kind of guidebook stuff?

Hubbell: Something like worlds, people are ready to let loose a little bit. They’ll go out, have a nice dinner. Go to a bar. Usually, when we were in Milan [for the 2018 Worlds], we were asking [Italian ice dancers] Anna [Cappellini] and Luca [Lanotte] “Where should we go? What should we do?” People will be interested, but luckily there’s many a skater that are from there and have lived there much longer than we have. People probably won’t rely wholly on our opinion. A fair amount of retired skaters are still in the area. It’ll be a nice reunion.

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue earn bronze at 2019 World Championships

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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