Chock/Bates lead Hubbell/Donohue as the longtime ice dance rivalry nears its end

2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships - Day 2
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As one of sport’s friendliest rivalries comes to a close, it’s Madison Chock and Evan Bates who hold an impressive lead over Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue at the halfway point of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

The two ice dance teams, made up of Montreal training mates and childhood friends, have battled it out for podium spots at nearly every event the sport has to offer since both formed over a decade ago. When it comes to the U.S. Championships, they have been the sole contenders for the title each year this Olympic quad.

Chock and Bates, the 2020 national champions, entered as slight underdogs as Hubbell and Donohue won the title in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

But with an event record of 91.94 points for their Billie Eilish blues/hip-hop rhythm dance, Chock and Bates are 2.55 points ahead entering Saturday’s free dance.

“It is certainly not out first rodeo but it’s our favorite rodeo,” Chock told Andrea Joyce on the USA broadcast. “We love doing the U.S. Championships. The audience is incredible, we really felt their energy and their support out there. It was just such a pleasure to perform. I loved every second of it.”

The margin may not seem significant in an event that is expected to see a 220-plus point total, but it is the widest rhythm dance gap between the two at this competition since 2016.

Chock and Bates led by a mere 0.41 points after last year’s rhythm dance, but Hubbell and Donohue took the win by 1.63 points overall.

If they can hold on, Chock and Bates will win a third U.S. title, seven years after their first.

“We know that we just have to trust ourselves and stick to our process — we’ve got everything we need right here between the two of us,” Chock said as she looked at Bates, her partner off the ice as well.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

While Chock and Bates earned the best rhythm dance score of their careers, Hubbell and Donohue were less than pleased with their performance to a Janet Jackson medley that garnered 89.33 points.

“Zach and I are a little bit disappointed today,” Hubbell shared. “We’ve been practicing really well. … We’re a little bit confused — there were a lot of mistakes that don’t usually happen.”

A victory for Hubbell and Donohue would be especially meaningful as they have made clear this is their final season competing.

The U.S. will send three ice dance teams to next month’s Beijing Winter Olympics, and while Chock/Bates and Hubbell/Donohue — with five world medals between the teams — are no-brainers to return to the Games, drama befell the race for that third spot on Friday.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker have been clear frontrunners, earning bronze the past three U.S. Championships, but for the first time this quad are in fourth going into the free dance.

They trail Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, in just their third season together, who scored 80.85 points — still 8.54 out from the top two but 1.46 ahead of Hawayek and Baker.

Hawayek, who suffered a concussion in July 2021, stumbled during their twizzle sequence at the start of the program. In their 10th season together, she and Baker are eager for what could be their Olympic debuts.

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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