Hubbell/Donohue nearing in on fourth Skate America win, but Chock/Bates nipping at their heels

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
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LAS VEGAS — After nearly an entire figure skating season without crowds – thanks to Covid-19 – the raucous applause and partial standing ovations at the Orleans Arena are what stood out the most to the top ice dancers.

“The thing that sticks out in my mind from this performance was really being aware while it was happening of how the crowd was reacting,” Madison Hubbell, who leads with partner Zachary Donohue following the rhythm dance at Skate America, said. “Very often we feel that energy come through at the bow or at the end of the performance. I would say this wasn’t the most applause we’ve gotten ever, but it felt like it. I really noticed it at the entry of our lifts. It was very welcome after a year of mostly silence.”

Hubbell and Donohue are halfway to their fourth consecutive Skate America victory in as many years. U.S. teammates and training mates Madison Chock and Evan Bates are nipping at their heels, though.

“You could really feel the crowd’s energy,” Chock also commented. “We had a wonderful time performing for each other, but also for the crowd because they were just so receptive to what we were giving to them and it was great to hear the response. When they clap along to your music, it’s the best feeling.”

In a season of hip-hop and blues rhythm dances, Hubbell and Donohue’s Janet Jackson medley to “Nasty,” “Rope Burn” and “Rhythm Nation” garnered 83.58 points.

Chock and Bates’ Billie Eillish program to “My Boy,” “Therefore I Am” and “Bad Guy” scored 82.55.

The Canadian team of Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorenson are in third after their George Michael medley – which included “Careless Whisper,” “I Want Your Sex” and “Freedom! ’90” – earned 75.33 points.

After living in Canada for 11 years and skating for the nation since the 2018-2019 season, Sorenson officially became a citizen on Aug. 10 of this year, making him and Fournier Beaudry eligible to be one of three Canadian ice dance teams selected for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

“It’s nice to have that weight off my shoulders because it was definitely stressful” Sorenson said. “I did the swearing in on Zoom. … I cried.”

All three of the top teams’ scores were less than what they earned earlier in the season at lower-level competitions.

Hubbell and Donohue scored 0.48 points higher to win the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, Chock and Bates 1.17 at their silver-medal performance to four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at Finlandia Trophy and Fournier Beaudry and Sorenson 1.31 better when they took silver at Lombardia Trophy.

“I would say that coming in to this competition and seeing some of the levels that were given at Finlandia last week, we were kind of expecting a very tough panel [of judges],” Hubbell said when asked about the judging in Vegas. “Zach and I, in going to Skate America, there were a few things we wanted to use to our advantage for experience. One being some of the panel being back for the Olympics, and also competing against Madison and Evan so early, which is not our typical course of events.”

Hubbell and Donohue and Chock and Bates have been among the top ice dance teams in the country and the world since both pairs teamed up before the 2011-2012 season. They typically meet for the first time on the ice at the Grand Prix Final in December.

“We definitely left a lot of points on the table,” Hubbell added. “We’re hoping with those extra technical points we can get closer to 90.”

The winning rhythm dance scores at the last two world championships was 88.42 and 88.15.

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