madison hubbell

AP

Figure skating Grand Prix series: Eight matchups to watch

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Now that the Grand Prix figure skating assignments have been announced, a look at eight of the most exciting head-to-heads this fall …

Men
Skate America – Nathan Chen vs. Jason Brown
Two of the U.S. men are showcased at the Grand Prix opener in October. What makes this so special? The last time these two competed at the same Grand Prix, in France last November, Brown actually led Chen after the short program. In the end, though, Chen rallied to keep his undefeated season intact.

Also notable in the field: South Korea’s Cha Jun-Hwan, who trains with Brown in Toronto.

Internationaux de France – Nathan Chen vs. Shoma Uno
Chen and Uno have shared world podiums, most recently in 2018 when Chen took gold and Uno the silver. Uno’s coaching change should only spice things up; however, he has not announced where he will train.

Also notable in the field: world junior champion Tomoki Hiwatashi makes his senior Grand Prix debut. He was fourth at the U.S. Championships in January.

Rostelecom Cup – Shoma Uno vs. Vincent Zhou
After competing in France, Uno gets a week to rest before facing another top American in Vincent Zhou. Zhou had a breakthrough end of last season, claiming his first, top-level senior international medals — bronze at Four Continents and worlds.

MORE: Nathan Chen learns from chaos of balancing Yale, skating

Women
Skate America – Anna Shcherbakova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, and Yelizabet Tursynbaeva
All are known for jumps: Shcherbakova, the 15-year-old Russian champion, for a quadruple Lutz, Tuktamysheva, the 2015 World champion, for her triple Axel and the Kazakh Tursynbaeva for a quad Salchow in taking silver at worlds.

Also notable in the field: 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen returns to competition for the first time since the PyeongChang Olympics; 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, Chen’s Olympic teammate.

NHK Trophy – Rika Kihira vs. Alina Zagitova
Kihira, who swept her Grand Prix starts last fall, will likely show off her triple Axel on home ice, but Olympic and world champion Zagitova is also beloved in Japan.

Also notable in the field: Russian Sofia Samodurova, who defeated Zagitova at January’s European Championships.

MORE: Bradie Tennell on self-doubt, lessons learned in 2019

Pairs
NHK Trophy – Sui Wenjing and Han Cong vs. Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres
We have to wait a while for it, but China’s Sui and Han facing off against France’s James and Cipres should be a real treat.

Sui and Han own two world titles, including from March despite a series of injuries that kept them out most of the season. James and Cipres had been undefeated last season before a short program error at worlds, where they finished fifth.

Also notable in the field: The two U.S. pairs, Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea and Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim, should be pretty evenly matched. It could be a preview of January’s nationals.

Ice dance
Skate America – Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue vs. Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin
The Americans earned world champs bronze ahead of the Russians by a slim 1.88 points in March. Similar to last season, Hubbell and Donohue will get their Grand Prix starts out of the way in the first two weeks and likely become the first qualifiers for December’s Grand Prix Final.

Also notable in the field: Spain’s Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz train in Montreal alongside Hubbell and Donohue and a number of other teams that will be at Skate America.

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue already eyeing 2020 World Championships

Internationaux de France – Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron vs. Madison Chock and Evan Bates
Four-time world champions Papadakis and Cizeron will face stiff competition from training mates Chock and Bates. Chock and Bates had an abbreviated season last year, as Chock was away from competition for nearly 10 months after ankle surgery. Nevertheless, they won Four Continents and placed sixth at worlds.

Also notable in the field: European bronze medalists Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri from Italy, who earned bronze at their first Grand Prix Final last season.

MORE: Chen, Zagitova among top takeaways from last season

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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.

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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Yale student and world champion Nathan Chen finds time for Stars on Ice

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NEW YORK (AP) — Somehow, in the midst of his freshman season at Yale, Nathan Chen has found time to escape the classroom and the study hall and the tests.

All he’s done since becoming an Ivy Leaguer is win the Grand Prix Final, a third straight U.S. figure skating championship, and repeat as world champion. Yale might have a strong hockey team, but Chen’s hat trick can’t be matched by any of the Bulldogs.

Chen chuckles when asked about achieving so much while also carrying a hefty workload in school.

“It is challenging,” he says, “but I knew it would be.”

And now that the competitive season is over — Chen helped the United States to a first-place finish in a world team event last weekend — he can have some downtime, right?

Well, he could. Instead, he’s fitting in appearances with the Stars on Ice tour, which launches Thursday night in Fort Myers, Florida. He will, however, skip some stops on the 13-city tour to take class finals. He is, after all, a full-time student.

“It will be a challenge because of exams and other things, but most of the shows are East Coast- based and I can travel to school and back to the show,” he says. “Yeah, I am taking a gap for finals, but ultimately (the grind) is not too much of a concern.

“It’s really nice that we have so many top skaters in Stars on Ice, so I am not part of the cast this year based on my schedules. It would definitely impact the cast if they had to take me out of some (routines). It’s a better idea to do my numbers separately. Besides, with all they have accomplished, they are a great cast.”

That includes 2014 Olympic champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, and world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue.

Still, the fact Chen, who turns 20 next month, is participating on the tour after a full season of competition and the Yale workload is somewhat astounding.

But he’s worked out a regimen for practices in New Haven, chats “all the time” with coach Rafael Arutunian, and really hasn’t missed a beat — or a quad — since his fiasco of a short program at the 2018 Olympics that likely cost him a medal.

Chen has been a winner at everything he has entered since the PyeongChang Games, where his outsized performance in the free skate nearly overshadowed the medalists as he rallied to finish fifth.

“Anytime there is no Olympics, it’s a completely different situation,” he says. “For the Olympics, there is a buildup to the Games for four years. And it’s even more evident when you are thinking about that specific Olympics in that year. Now is the time to be improving, there’s less fine-tuning, more bold improvement and we’ve been able to achieve a lot of that this year. Ultimately, I am really happy with the season.”

The 2018-19 was highlighted by a pressure-packed showing by Chen at worlds in Japan last month. Leading after the short program, he was scheduled on the ice just after national hero Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion. Hanyu was sensational; Chen cracked that the fans’ celebration after Hanyu’s routine — they throw Winnie The Pooh dolls onto the ice — featured “more Pooh Bears than I knew existed. It was incredible to see so many Pooh Bears on the ice.”

Chen didn’t crack in his skating, though, and easily skated off with gold.

“It was awesome,” he says. “It’s really nice to be able to see that number of people really enjoy the sport the athletes love so much. The reception was insane. Stepping on the ice, it is a little breathtaking to see all those people in a triple-decker rink, filling so many seats and making so much noise.

“I was able to feel that energy from the audience and that they were expecting or wanting a good performance out of me.”

He delivered, becoming the first American since 1984 to repeat as men’s world champ. The last was Scott Hamilton, who coincidentally founded Stars on Ice.

Reminded of that connection, Chen noted that “Scott won four in a row. I have a ways to go.”

MORE: By any measure, Nathan Chen’s performance at Worlds matches standard for transcendent greatness

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2018-19 figure skating season 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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