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Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue starting new holiday traditions

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If anyone has reason to celebrate during this holiday season, it’s defending U.S. ice dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They’ve had an outstanding autumn, which they kicked off by winning their fourth U.S. International Figure Skating Classic and then cemented their place in the ice dancing hierarchy with gold medals at Skate America, Skate Canada and the Grand Prix Final.

This year, they’ll be celebrating Christmas separately. Hubbell is heading home to Sylvania, Ohio with fiancé Adrian Diaz and Donohue is going to England with girlfriend Olivia Smart.

They’re training at the Gadbois Centre in Montreal until Dec. 21, so for now, they’ve brought the holidays into their training base. Hubbell has put up Christmas decorations in her apartment, including a tree, stockings and candles that smell like pine trees.

Donohue decorated both Smart’s apartment and his, with Hubbell’s assistance on the latter. He hosted a holiday get together for the skaters heading off to other destinations. He admitted that he just began his Christmas gift shopping on Saturday.

While it’s pretty cold and snowy in Montreal this time of year, Hubbell and Donohue said the Christmas spirit is evident. “Everybody is out shopping,” said Hubbell, who hoped to check out a Christmas market near where she lives. She’s been following it on Instagram and said it looks lovely.

This is Hubbell’s first Christmas visit home with Diaz. It will be his first American Christmas. Diaz has always lived in a city in an apartment, so the Hubbells’ decorated house will be a big change for him. Also, Hubbell’s mother, Susan, is very detailed in making Christmas stockings.

“My mom has always been like ‘Stockings come first,’” said Hubbell. “She makes these beautiful heirloom stockings and embroiders our names on them. Even this year, we’re not doing any big presents, but we fill our stockings with small gifts, which is really fun. It’s a bunch of little tokens that reminds you of that person. It will be his first year waking up to a stocking that is actually made by my mom, which is really special because she puts so much time into it.”

The house will only be quiet for a short time on Christmas morning. Soon, Hubbell’s older brother, Zach, his wife, Nicole, and four young sons will arrive.

“That’s a lot of energy,” said Hubbell. “You get to wake up with a coffee before the chaos ensues.”

Hubbell’s other brother, Keiffer, her former ice dance partner, will be coming from Michigan.

Smart’s family lives outside Sheffield, England. This will be their first holiday in a new home. They celebrate not only Christmas, but also Boxing Day, which is Dec. 26. Boxing day originated in the United Kingdom, with the origin of the name referring to a Christmas box, containing money or presents, being bestowed to servants or workers. In recent times, it has other interpretations.

“Everyone gets up at 8 a.m. at the latest, and we’re going to go to a cool village that’s got tons of sales on for shopping,” said Donohue. “The first year we started dating we went to the UK and had a huge party with all of her family. Christmas Eve is the bigger celebration.”

Christmas Day will begin with just immediate family in the morning and then Smart’s grandparents will come over. Later, they’ll connect with other relatives.

Following Christmas, Hubbell and Donohue head to Lake Placid, NY for a Stars on Ice performance on Dec. 30. New Year’s celebrations will be fairly low-key, but still festive.

Diaz is from Spain, where they not only celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, but also Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6. Hubbell never placed a priority on New Year’s Eve, often falling asleep before the clock struck 12, but celebrating the New Year is a big deal to Diaz.

“It is so important to end it with family and turn over the new year,” said Hubbell. “One of their big traditions is in the last 12 seconds of the year you have to eat 12 grapes.”

Training begins again the first week of January to prepare for the U.S. Championships. They’re excited that the competition will be in Detroit, where they lived and trained for many years. Many of Hubbell’s relatives will be present and they are even planning a tailgating party.

“They’re going to pretend figure skating is like football,” she said.

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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U.S. figure skating rankings going into national championships

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A discipline-by-discipline look at U.S. figure skaters’ best season scores with no more top-level events until the U.S. Championships from Jan. 24-27 in Detroit …

Men
1. Nathan Chen — 282.42
2. Chen — 280.57
3. Chen — 271.58
4. Jason Brown — 263.42
5. Brown — 256.33
6. Brown — 234.97
7. Vincent Zhou — 234.25
8. Brown — 233.23
9. Zhou — 225.75
10. Camden Pulkinen — 223.95

Chen is on his way to a third straight national title, while Brown has been a pleasant surprise this fall after changing coaches in the offseason. The Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion even beat Chen in one program on the Grand Prix Series. Zhou, after placing sixth in PyeongChang, has struggled with under-rotations on jumps but is still in the driver’s seat for one of three world championships spots.

Women
1. Bradie Tennell — 206.41
2. Tennell — 202.41
3. Ting Cui — 199.79
4. Mariah Bell — 198.96
5. Tennell — 197.78
6. Bell — 196.60
7. Tennell — 192.89
8. Bell — 190.25
9. Bell — 188.97
10. Ashley Lin — 181.21

Two world team spots for the women. Tennell and Bell are the top returning veterans this season, but remember that 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen has yet to compete with a foot injury. Then there are Ting, 16, and Alysa Liu, a 13-year-old who isn’t age eligible for junior or senior worlds but can compete in the senior division at nationals. Liu landed triple Axels in both programs at sectionals last month, scoring 212.97 points (though domestic scores are often inflated and not comparable with international scores).

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 205. 35
2. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.82
3. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.76
4. Hubbell/Donohue — 197.42
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 184.63
6. Hawayek/Baker — 184.04
7. Hawayek/Baker — 181.47
8. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons — 180.95
9. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter — 180.57
10. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 180.22

The only active U.S. couple to beat Hubbell and Donohue in direct competition is Madison Chock and Evan Bates, but the two-time world medalists missed the entire fall season due to Chock’s ankle surgery. With Olympic bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani sitting out this season and maybe done competing altogether, Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites to repeat as national champions.

Three U.S. couples will go to worlds. Hawayek and Baker, after qualifying for their first Grand Prix Final, are primed to go back after placing 10th last season. The status of Chock and Bates will largely determine who rounds out the world team.

Pairs
1. Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — 191.43

2. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim — 190.49
3. Knierim/Knierim — 182.84
4. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 181.56
5. Kayne/O’Shea — 177.69
6. Knierim/Knierim — 177.22
7. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 176.44
8. Cain/LeDuc — 175.06
9. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.91
10. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.78

Kayne and O’Shea, who likely would have made the Olympic team if the U.S. qualified more than one pair for PyeongChang, surprised by posting that 191 at the last event of the Grand Prix Series three weeks ago. The U.S. has just one pair at worlds this season for the first time since 1984 and last earned a medal in 2002. Kayne and O’Shea and the Knierims are ranked Nos. 9 and 10 in the world this season. Cain is recovering after falling head-first on the ice from a botched lift on Friday night.

VIDEO: Adam Rippon appears on ‘Will & Grace’

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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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