LAS VEGAS — Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue could not ask for a better beginning of the end.
The decorated ice dancers have previously proclaimed that this 2021-2022 Olympic season will be the final one of their lengthy careers, and so far it is a dream.
With Sunday’s Skate America title, Hubbell and Donohue have won the first two competitions of their season — both on home ice.
Their Skate America victory completes a sweep of the four in a row to which they were assigned and ties them with skating legends Nathan Chen, Todd Eldredge, Michelle Kwan and ice dancers Meryl Davis/Charlie White for the event’s longest win streak across all disciplines.
They also ended their time at the Orleans Arena with season’s best free dance (125.96) and total (209.54) scores. Their rhythm dance at last month’s U.S. International Figure Skating Classic earned 84.06 points, while they scored 83.58 on Saturday.
“I couldn’t be happier with the performance today,” Hubbell said. “Some days you take inspiration from different things, whether it be the work you put in at home or that my mom is in the stands. Something clicked this morning and I really wanted to skate for myself and really be there with Zach and present for the performance from beginning to the end.
“I think we both accomplished that goal and, in doing so, accomplished the other goal, which was to come out with the gold.”
Knowing this is their last season has allowed Hubbell and Donohue to soak in every experience and prepare for each competition in a way they would not have prior.
“Certainly our approach this Skate America was to try and be in the best shape we’ve ever been at Skate America and I can say we’re very proud of where we are physically,” Hubbell explained. “This is a great sign in October. … Overall, I would say we just felt very ready and prepared and supported by the work that we did at home and put out what felt more like a December or January performance for us.”
Hubbell and Donohue finished fourth, after he put both hands down on the ice, at their Olympic debut in 2018. After medaling at all three world championships held since – the only team to do so – they are favored to medal at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics come February.
U.S. teammates Madison Chock and Evan Bates, considered longtime rivals of Hubbell and Donohue both domestically and internationally, were a close second in Las Vegas with 208.23 points. Their Daft Punk free dance was just 0.28 behind Hubbell and Donohue’s, which is set to Anne Sila’s “Drowning.”
Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorenson took the bronze with a distant 190.13, followed closely by Spain’s Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz at 189.69.
The top four teams train at Ice Academy of Montreal, led by coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer.
While this was Hubbell and Donohue’s fifth Skate America appearance – and medal – in six years, it was the first for Chock and Bates in six years. They won the event in 2014 and 2015, then did not receive it as one of their two Grand Prix assignments until now.
“Six years is a really long time,” Bates reflected. “Obviously when we were here in Chicago in 2015, it was such a different time in our careers and we were really achieving a lot of results and in that six-year span since we really went through it. We had some low moments and went through just a lot together.
“Reflecting on what life was like six years ago and what our partnership was like then, we’ve come a long way.”
The on- and off-ice couple, who have competed at two Olympics together while Bates was also at the Vancouver 2010 Games with then-partner Emily Samuelson, has since switched coaches, moved countries, dealt with Chock’s ankle injury and surgery as well as her concussion – not to mention the ups and downs of competition results and navigating the pandemic.
Chock and Bates’ Olympic season free dance program tells the story of an alien and an astronaut that are able to come together despite their differences.
“Of course if you asked us two years ago, ‘Will you guys be doing a galactic, alien-astronaut program for the Olympic Games?’ We’d probably say, ‘No, what are you talking about,'” Chock laughed. “However, in the last few years while we’ve been at the Ice Academy of Montreal, the coaches have helped us realize more is possible than ever before. We are capable of doing so much more than we could have ever dreamed of four years ago, and they have really allowed us to embrace that creative freedom and embrace who we want to be as athletes and artists on the ice.
“From that came this wonderful, intergalactic, star-crossed program that we are so passionate about because not only is it a unique piece of music and unique story we are telling but we also have a much deeper message between the two of us that we hope to convey to everyone as we perform, and that’s one of love and acceptance. I think that can resonate with everyone of any country across the board, and I think when you have the Olympic Games and such a large platform, it’s such a wonderful opportunity when we step out on the ice to share our message and show our love for what we do.”
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