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Three questions with Kaitlin Hawayek, Jean-Luc Baker before U.S. Championships

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Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker made the move to Montreal this season; so far, it’s paid dividends. Despite a delay in their training time this summer due to Baker’s concussion, the ice dance team won NHK Trophy in Japan and placed fourth at Grand Prix France. It was enough for them to qualify for their first Grand Prix Final, capping off their most successful season so far.

They spoke to reporters during a media teleconference ahead of the U.S. Championships in Detroit this weekend, where they hope to continue to take steps forward on their four-year plan.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Baker says he’s essentially symptom-free from his concussion.

He said that after the Grand Prix Final, he flew to see his doctor that had originally examined him in August.

Jean-Luc Baker: “We’ve been on a recovery plan. I’ve been communicating with her since August, two or three times a week… We have another plan set for the rest of the season. When you have a concussion or multiple concussions, sometimes symptoms can linger around a lot longer than people of anticipate. I’d say the majority of the time, I’m good. There are some days where I struggle a little bit more. But the best part about being here in Montreal is that I’m not alone. I have Kaitlin; I have my support team around me. They all understand and they’re so, so intelligent in a way that maybe some days are better to push through and some days are not. I thought I knew my body. They almost understand my body more than I do.”

2. Training with two other American teams in Montreal has given them another reason to continue to work hard.

Kaitlin Hawayek: “We’re training differently than we used to because we’re in a new training environment… There are so many top athletes there. We always are on the ice with people that are working just as hard as we are, who are incredibly talented, incredibly driven. When we’re not on the ice, in between our sessions, when we’re warming up off the ice, a different group of people will be on the ice and we get to see them train and push themselves too. It’s a very motivating environment to be in.”

3. They can see changes in themselves since they moved to Montreal.

JB: “I don’t think necessarily think that we’ve changed so much as we’ve had a deeper level of understanding on who we are and why we skate. A lot of things like that. Our coaching team is very, very strict in terms of – they want us to know why we are doing what we’re doing. Having a championship mentality and being accountable for everything that we do. It’s on us at the end of the day. It really has been such an experience moving here because I think Kaitlin and I have both grown so much as people as well as skaters because we’re learning so much more about ourselves, about each other, and it’s been a big process and a great one.”

KH: “The mentality of ‘in it to win it’ is something that’s been a major influence on the way that we look at training… In the past we’ve been afraid to think of the idea of training to win in a sense because obviously it’s hard to get to the top. But if you never allow yourself to think that you can get there, you won’t be able to get there. Both of us have really changed our mentality to train win and train to be the best. That’s what we’re doing heading in nationals. The rest is out of our hands.”

MORE: Three questions with Madison Chock and Evan Bates

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. 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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How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships

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Nathan Chen sets out for his third national title, while Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are aiming to defend their title for the first time at the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships in Detroit Jan. 22-27.

It’s the first time Detroit has held the championships in 25 years, when Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by associates of Tonya Harding.

NBC Sports Gold’s “Figure Skating Pass” will live stream every program from Detroit from junior and senior competition. Juniors starts Tuesday with the ladies’ short program, and seniors will begin Thursday with the pairs’ short program.

NBCSN and NBC will also have live coverage of senior competition throughout the weekend.

The national championships will dictate which skaters are assigned late-season competitions, including Four Continents Championships in February and the world championships in March.

Chen, the 2018 world champion, is expected to reign supreme over the men’s field. He will likely be joined on the podium by 2014 Olympian Jason Brown and 2018 Olympian Vincent Zhou.

MORE: Nathan Chen prepared to capture third national title

On the ladies’ side, last year’s champion Bradie Tennell has said this season she wants to improve her artistic side of her skating. She faces challenges in that department from Mariah Bell and 13-year-old prodigy Alysa Liu will also make a run at the podium. With Karen Chen’s and Gracie Gold’s withdrawals, the podium at nationals looks much more unclear.

MORE: Three questions with Bradie Tennell

Two-time pairs national championships Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim changed coaches after a tumultuous season thus far, and will have to fend off 2016 champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea. Also in the field are Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc. Cain recently recovered from a concussion after a scary fall in competition.

MORE: Three questions with the Knierims

The U.S.’ top three dance teams train together in Montreal: Hubbell and Donohue, 2015 U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Grand Prix Japan winners Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker.

Hubbell and Donohue most recently won the Grand Prix Final and should have no problem topping the podium in Detroit. It will be the season debut for Chock and Bates, who missed the entire autumn season with Chock’s injury. Hawayek and Baker have never been higher than fourth on the U.S. podium, but this is expected to be their breakthrough year – if it isn’t already.

MORE: Three questions with Chock, Bates 

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U.S. Championships broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Tuesday

Junior ladies’ short program: 5:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Junior men’s short program: 7:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

 

Wednesday

Junior pairs’ short program: 10:30 a.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Junior rhythm dance: 2:45 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Junior ladies’ free skate: 5:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Junior men’s free skate: 7:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

 

Thursday

Junior pairs’ free skate: 11:45 a.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Pairs’ short program: 4:30 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 5 p.m. on NBCSN | STREAM LINK

Ladies’ short program: 8 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 9 p.m. on NBCSN | STREAM LINK

 

Friday

Junior free dance: 12 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Rhythm dance: 3:45 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 4 p.m. on NBCSN | STREAM LINK

Ladies’ free skate: 7:35 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 8 p.m. on NBC | STREAM LINK

 

Saturday

Pairs’ free skate (groups 1-3): 9:30 a.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Men’s short program (groups 1-2): 11:10 a.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Men’s short program (groups 3-4): 1:30 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

Pairs’ free skate (groups 4-5): 3 p.m. (GOLD) | STREAM LINK

NBC will have coverage of the pairs’ free skate and men’s short program beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Free dance: 6:15 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 7 p.m. on NBCSN | STREAM LINK

 

Sunday

Men’s free skate: 2:10 p.m. (GOLD), begins at 3:30 p.m. on NBC | STREAM LINK

 

Saturday, Feb. 16

Skating Spectacular (gala exhibition): 2:30 p.m. on NBC

Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue win Grand Prix Final ice dance

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue notched the biggest win for American ice dancers in nearly five years at the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver on Saturday night. It’s all part of the plan.

“Our goal going into the season was to win every competition,” Hubbell said after completing a perfect autumn Grand Prix Series. “We are three steps there.”

The U.S. champions and world silver medalists topped both the rhythm dance and free dance to capture the second-biggest annual international competition. The only other American couple to win on this significant of a stage was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, most recently at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Hubbell and Donohue tallied their highest score this season, 205.35 points, and won by 3.98 over Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.

The Americans completed a breakthrough 2018: also a first national title in January (after six times finishing third or fourth), their first Olympics in February (finishing fourth after a free-dance fall), their first world championships medal in March and sweeping their Grand Prix Series starts for the first time in October.

Another U.S. couple, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, finished sixth out of six Saturday in their Grand Prix Final debut.

The competition lacked every PyeongChang Olympic medalist.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir  have likely competed for the last time, though haven’t announced retirement. French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are the top-ranked couple this season (by a whopping 11.43 points) but were ineligible for the Final after missing their first Grand Prix due to Cizeron’s minor back injury. Americans Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are taking this season off and might be done competing, too.

Another accomplished couple, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, sat out the Grand Prix season due to Chock’s ankle surgery but could return to go for a seventh straight medal at nationals next month.

Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites there, but to accomplish Hubbell’s now-publicly stated goal, they will likely have to beat their French training partners at the world championships in March. Hubbell and Donohue never outscored Papadakis and Cizeron in nine head-to-head competitions and were more than 10 points adrift at last season’s worlds.

Later Saturday in pairs, French Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres rallied from fourth place in the short program for the biggest win of their eight-year partnership against a field lacking all of the PyeongChang medalists.

Grand Prix Final Ice Dance Results
Gold: Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 205.35

Silver: Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 201.37
Bronze: Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 198.65
4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 196.72
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 184.37
6. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 184.04

Grand Prix Final Pairs’ Results
Gold: Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 219.88

Silver: Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 216.90
Bronze: Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 214.20
4. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 201.07
5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 187.63
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 186.81

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