Rachel Parsons

AP

Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue successfully defend ice dance national title

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DETROIT — Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue successfully defended their ice dance national title, defeating two teams that train with them in Montreal in order to do so on Saturday night.

The 2018 Worlds silver medalists and Grand Prix Final champions scored 131.32 in the free dance to tally 215.88 total points.

“This performance more than ever before, Zach and I were really connected,” Hubbell said before receiving the team’s medals. “We kept looking into each other’s eyes. We created a bubble… to open our bubble and see everybody standing, it was really special.”

“[We] have really been on a journey of recreating who we are… coming into this it was a whole new event; a whole new nationals,” Donohue added.

Hubbell and Donohue mentioned over the course of the season so far that their free dance had been evolving to better tell the story of Romeo and Juliet.

Here at nationals, they received six 10s for their program component score (PCS) under “interpretation of the music/timing.” They received three additional 10s for “performance.” No other PCS score was below 9.50 points.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, competing for just the second time this month after being out for 10 months due to injury, finished with silver medals. The 2015 national champions scored 129.19 in the free dance for a total of 211.52 points.

Chock and Bates were both spotted lip syncing throughout their free dance.

“We didn’t mean to do that,” Chock admitted. “I was just having so much fun, and I enjoyed the song. It’s just such a fun, different piece of music. You don’t see too many upbeat pieces in the free dance… I think it’s just really nice to show that contrast and really dance because our program is so much about dance.”

“I honestly have not had as much fun on competitive ice before,” Bates added. “I feel like we’re skating from a place of gratitude more so than ever and I think it’s coming through with our skating.”

The third Montreal-based team, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, won the bronze. They had never finished higher than fourth place at a U.S. Championships. The last skaters of the night, Hawayek and Baker earned 120.18 in the free dance for a total score of 196.95 points.

Results: Ice dance final

Before the event, the families of the top teams gathered outside Little Caesars Arena for a tailgate party. With the top teams in Montreal, opportunities for the Detroit-area families to see their relatives compete were slim.

U.S. ice dance champions of the past were on hand during the medal ceremony, where the top three teams plus pewter medalists (fourth place) finishers Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter received flowers, congratulations, and their new hardware.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the 2014 Olympic ice dance gold medalists, Tenith White (formerly Belbin) and Ben Agosto, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists, and two-time Olympians Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow were all part of the awards show for the ice dancers.

MORE: Papadakis, Cizeron win fifth consecutive European ice dance title

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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Hubbell, Donohue in position to defend ice dance title

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Defending national ice dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are in prime position to win a back-to-back title. They scored 84.56 points in Friday’s rhythm dance, set to “Maria de Buenos Aires” to hold more than a two-point lead over the rest of the field.

Hubbell and Donohue received level 4s on each of their elements, though missed one keypoint in their Tango Romantica.

“Today we focused on being our best, and I’m sure these other two teams did the exact same thing,” Hubbell said after the event of her training partners.

“We’ll enjoy the fact that we came out on top today and go to bed feeling satisfied,” she added. “It will be lovely to be able to win another title and share that with my family that’s in the crowd. But no matter what, our focus is going to be on getting a performance that we’re proud of.”

Results: Rhythm dance

Madison Chock and Evan Bates competed in just their second competition of the season in Detroit — and second competition since being sidelined with injury for 10 months. In the time since, they moved to Montreal to train. They skated a clean program, including all level 4 elements and scored 82.33 points and are in second place heading into Saturday’s free dance.

Chock and Bates were the 2015 U.S. champions. Their rhythm dance was sharp and spot-on; the duo received level 4s on each element and hit all the keypoints in their pattern.

“I think back stage we were less relaxed, but when we took the ice, the calmness came over us,” Bates said afterward. “We have a really good connection. This is not our fist nationals. We have been doing this a really long time, despite the ten-month layoff.”

A third Montreal-based team, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, are in third after the rhythm dance. They earned 76.77 points. Hawayek and Baker have only ever been as high as fourth place at nationals.

They hit each of the keypoints in their pattern, and received level 4s on their twizzles and their lift. Their step sequence earned a level 3.

Three teams that each won bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series this fall currently sit in fourth, fifth, and sixth before Saturday’s free skate.

MORE: Tanith White analyzes the ice dance field

Earlier Friday, the junior ice dance competition wrapped up with brother and sister duo Caroline and Gordon Green taking the top spot. The siblings totaled 172.54, followed by Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik 1.48 points back for the silver medal.

Eliana Gropman and Ian Somerville tallied 155.46 points for bronze, edging out another brother and sister team, Oona and Gage Brown, who were fourth with 153.67 points.

Results: Junior ice dance 

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. Championships ice dance preview: No doubt Hubbell, Donohue can defend title

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Olympic silver medalist Tanith White will be on the call for the ice dance segments at the 2019 U.S. Championships. The five-time national champion spoke with NBCSports.com/figure-skating to break down the likely podium contenders in Detroit this weekend.

While Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are coming into the championships winning everything they competed in this season, they certainly appear to be capable of defending their title. Their training partners will challenge them, including Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who we haven’t seen much from this season due to injury, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, a team coming into their own after making the move to Montreal to train this season.

The rhythm dance is Friday and the free dance is Saturday. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

Hubbell and Donohue should continue excellent season

Hubbell and Donohue swept their Grand Prix assignments this fall and won December’s prestigious Grand Prix Final. The 2018 Worlds silver medalists come to nationals to defend their title for the first time, which may put additional pressure on them. But as White said, no problem. White feels “very confident” they’ll be able to retain their championship title.

“There is certainly a clear leader in Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. They ended the season last year with an incredible high at the world championships and they went into this year where they’ve just been setting goals and ticking them off, one by one. Which is an incredible confidence booster and just a really, really fantastic place for any team to reach.”

“Having said that, they’re coming in as defending champions for the first time, which is always a new and different experience. It brings both a sense of confidence and comfort but also its own pressure. Dealing with those expectations can challenging. But they have proven this season, more so than any season in the past, that they can handle the pressure on the biggest stages and really step up in those big moments. I expect the U.S. Championships to be a real celebration for them of what they’ve been able to accomplish this season both on paper and personally with the growth in their relationships and their skating and their partnership on and off the ice.”

MORE: 3 questions with Hubbell and Donohue 

Chock and Bates’ comeback

Chock and Bates made their season debut at a small event in Poland earlier in January. Before that, their last competition was the PyeongChang Olympics. Chock’s ankle injury kept them out of the fall season and in the meantime, the couple moved to Montreal to train.

Realistically, though, White said, “in the scheme of how long they’ve been on the scene and how long they’ve been at the top of the dance scene, they haven’t been away that long. It’s only been a couple of months.”

Can audiences expect big changes from Chock and Bates under new tutelage?

“Their style will be noticeably affected by their new coaching team. As is the case any time a couple leaves a longtime coach and choreographer and makes a big change. But obviously that’s something that they wanted, they needed a refresher in their careers at this point and I’m really excited to see how that plays out. Mostly, just to see them on the ice with renewed confidence in what they’re bringing to the table. Which is what it feels like when you’ve made a big change.”

“Madison and Evan year after year at the U.S. Championships, when they get on the ice for practice, blow me away. They have just a magnetism that is appreciable that much more in person and so even if anyone’s coming in with question marks or doubts about their readiness or their new material, I just have this feeling that they’re going to once again get onto practice and just start speeding around the rink and blow everyone away.”

MORE: 3 questions with Chock and Bates

Hawayek and Baker build on growth this season

Hawayek and Baker have never been higher than fourth at U.S. Nationals, though they were world junior champions in 2014. This season, they moved to Montreal to train – now, the top three U.S. dance teams are training together, and each know what the other brings to the table. By winning NHK Trophy in Japan and qualifying for the first Grand Prix Final, they made a statement in a big way.

“They are skating so well this season. They are so much more engaged and active with their skating. They have an enhanced connection with each other, with their movement, with the ice. Everything is more deliberate. I’m just so impressed with the improvements that they’ve been able to make in one off-season. That’s really fast to acclimate to a new coaching team and see the results come so quickly.”

“Jean-Luc was dealing with a concussion in the summer as well. They didn’t even have ideal training circumstances; nonetheless they have come out and flourished this season. They’ve made their mark internationally and I expect that to really make a big difference in where they land nationally as well. To me, there’s no question that they have a spot waiting for them on the podium at the U.S. Championships for the first time, for those two.”

MORE: 3 questions with Hawayek and Baker

Younger teams could play spoiler, too.

With selection spots on the line for the world championships and Four Continents teams, others in the dance field will also be looking to make their mark. Each of the teams won a medal on the Grand Prix series this fall, too. Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter finished fourth at Skate America plus won bronze at Grand Prix Helsinki. Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko were fifth in Helsinki and won bronze at Rostelecom Cup. And sibling duo Rachel and Michael Parsons won bronze at NHK Trophy before finishing fifth at Grand Prix France.

White pointed out that the top total scores this season internationally for each of these teams are all within a few tenths of each other.

  • Parsons/Parsons: 180.95 points (Nebelhorn Trophy)
  • NcNamara/Carpenter: 180.57 points (Skate America)
  • Carreira/Ponomarenko: 180.22 points (Tallinn Trophy)

White said she’ll keep these close scores in mind as these three teams step on the ice.

“Last season, as some of them made their first step up to the senior ranks at the U.S. Championships, it was a bit more of a let’s-feel-it-out, let’s-skate-our-best and just see where the cards fall. This season there should be a very clear intention how they handle themselves the second they step into the arena that they’re all going for a top-three spot. It’s not outside of their reached based on the scores they’ve had this season. They’re just the younger crop. They’re going to have to prove themselves.”

MORE: Knierims, Kayne/O’Shea highlight pairs’ preview at U.S. Championships

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!