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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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Papadakis, Cizeron win fourth world title; Hubbell, Donohue land on podium

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France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron captured their fourth World Championship ice dance title on Saturday in Saitama, Japan.

Skating to selections from Rachael Yamagata, Papadakis and Cizeron scored a season’s best 134.23 points in the free skate for a total score of 222.65 points. They extended their short program lead over the field to 10.89 points. They now join six other ice dance teams in winning four World Championship titles; no team has one five, but one team has won six titles.

The last time the World Championships were held in Saitama, in 2014, Papadakis and Cizeron made their event debut and finished 13th. In the years to come, they went on to win three more titles: 2015, 2016, and 2018.

“We were exactly here five years ago for the World Championships in Saitama,” Papadakis recalled. “It’s funny to remember the whole experience we gained from those five years and where we were at that time, and where we are now. It’s incredible. We are just very, very proud of us.”

Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov scored a season’s best 127.82 in their free dance for a total score of 211.76. They won their first World Championship medal, a silver, marking Russia’s first world ice dance medal since 2013. Their teammates, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin finished fourth with 208.52 points.

Two-time U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue scored a season’s best 127.31 in their “Romeo and Juliet” free dance which included all Level 4 elements. They notched a total score of 210.40 and the bronze medal. They won their first World medal, a silver, in 2018.

“We feel like we put our strongest performance this season here at Worlds, and that was our goal,” Hubbell said. “Our goal was to do our best performance and the rest we can’t control, that was really what we have achieved. Next season we would love to be competing for the top of the podium. We think that Team USA is incredibly strong in ice dance, so it keeps us on our toes. We would love to be the number one team heading into the Beijing Games [in 2022], and going to bring the gold home for Team USA — that is really the plan.”

Full results are here.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje skated a tribute to their late friend and two-time world medalist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan.

Their free skate earned 122.78 points and all of their elements were called Level 4, except for Weaver’s twizzles, which earned a Level 2. They scored a total of 205.62 points and finished in fifth place. Notably, Weaver and Poje have been inside the Worlds top five for the past nine years, including a silver in 2014 and two bronzes (2015, 2018).

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver told NBCSports.com/figure-skating earlier this season.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates moved to Montreal for a new start this season and spent nearly 10 months away from competition before returning in January. The Four Continents gold medalists earned Level 3 on their one-foot step sequence and Level 4s on the rest of their elements in Saitama for a free skate score of 122.60 and an overall score of 204.92 points. They finished in sixth place.

“It feels so good that our best performance of the season happened here, on the World Championships,” Chock said afterwards. “Now we are going to go on with our next season, but firstly enjoy our vacation.”

“I think it is our favorite free dance that we have ever had, and it is really our tempo, especially the last piece of music. It is very audience-friendly,” Bates added, confirming it’s the last time they will compete the Elvis medley.

In what has been a personal storytelling vehicle for them this season, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker‘s free dance to The Irrespressibles earned 113.16 points for an overall score of 189.06. Their ninth place at the World Championships caps their best season ever. At last year’s Worlds, they finished 10th and then moved to Montreal for a new training environment.

“It was a really great Worlds experience for us,” Hawayek told media. “It’s always such a pleasure to be in Japan and just continue to put out memorable performances for everyone and I think we set out with a goal of doing just that, and we are very happy to feel like we did that. We feel like we put out two solid and emotionally connected, memorable performances.”

World ice dance champions title leader board:

6 titles: Lyudmila Pakhomova/ Alexandr Gorshkov (Soviet Union; 1970-74, 1976)

4 titles: Jean Westwood/ Lawrence Demmy (Great Britain, 1952-56); Eva Romanova/ Pavel Roman (Czech Republic, 1962-65); Diane Towler/ Bernard Ford (Great Britain, 1966-69); Jayne Torvill/ Christopher Dean (Great Britain, 1981-84); Natalia Bestemianova/ Andrei Bukin (Soviet Union, 1985-88); Oksana Grishuk/ Yevgeni Platov (Russia, 1994-97); Gabriella Papadakis/ Guillaume Cizeron (France, 2015-16, 2018-19)

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short | Alina Zagitova wins first world title | Nathan Chen defends world title, defeating Yuzuru Hanyu at World Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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World Championships ice dance preview: France’s Papadakis, Cizeron vying for title No. 4

2018 World Championships gold and silver medalists/ AP
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The way the ice dance field breaks down at this weekend’s World Championships in Saitama, Japan, largely depends on how the teams that train in Montreal skate.

Two-time world silver medalists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon (2006, 2007) have built a venerable dance school in Montreal. Teams, like two-time Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, have flocked there since France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron shot from 13th to first in a one-year span under their tutelage.

Papadakis and Cizeron have had an abbreviated season due to Cizeron’s concussion, but they are just as strong as they were last season. They missed their first Grand Prix assignment, meaning they couldn’t qualify for the Grand Prix Final, but still won Grand Prix France. Then in January, they won their fifth consecutive European title.

The couple, the 2018 Olympic silver medalists, are the heavy favorites in Japan, where they are contending for their fourth World title (2015, 2016, 2018). This season, the biggest change for the team is that they’re training with more of their direct competition than ever, including three American teams.

“Each one is quite friendly and has a lot of respect for the others. Each one works his or her best. Each one is fun to share the ice with,” Papadakis said in an interview with NBCsports.com/figure-skating.

As in the men’s discipline — where Nathan Chen, Jason Brown, and Vincent Zhou are first, second and fourth after Thursday’s short program — the American teams are looking particularly strong. Here’s a closer look at the U.S. teams, plus the other podium threats:

Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, U.S.A.

Credentials: 2018 World silver medalists, 2018 Grand Prix Final champions, two-time U.S. champions, fourth in PyeongChang

Hubbell and Donohue won gold at the prestigious Grand Prix Final in December, the first U.S. dance team to do so since 2013. Then, they won their second consecutive U.S. national title in January. But at their next competition, Four Continents, they stumbled. They received only base credit on their opening stationary lift, which cost them around five points – that’s major in ice dance, especially in a field where podiums are often decided by just tenths or hundredths. The mistake dropped them from first all the way down to fourth place.

Worth noting: They skate their free dance to “Romeo & Juliet” and tell the story of the star-crossed lovers. Before the free dance at nationals, they watched the movie together, which helped them connect to the emotions behind the iconic performances in the film.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, U.S.A.

Credentials: Two-time world medalists (silver, 2015; bronze, 2016), 2015 U.S. champions, 2019 Four Continents champions

Chock and Bates were sidelined by her ankle surgery and were away from competition for nearly 10 months following the 2018 World Championships. In the meantime, they moved to Montreal to train and reignite their passion for skating. They’ve rededicated themselves to the next Olympics – which would be the couple’s third together – and it shows in their skating. They were second at U.S. nationals in January and were lights-out at Four Continents to take the title.

Worth noting: They competed three times in five weeks in January and February, but utilized the lead-up time before worlds to recuperate. Their plan is still to peak in Japan, they told NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, U.S.A.

Credentials: 2019 U.S. bronze medalists, fifth at Four Continents, 10th at 2018 World Championships

Hawayek and Baker’s move to Montreal has brought marked improvement this season. They won their first Grand Prix gold medal in Japan, qualified for their first Grand Prix Final, notched their highest-ever finish at U.S. nationals and were named to the Four Continents and World Championship teams outright. Previously, they had competed at those events only after being called up from the alternate spot. They told NBCSports.com/figure-skating that put them in a tough spot.

“It’s really exciting for us to make that leap into this realm of skaters,” Hawayek said in that interview. “We’re really grateful that we train with the other two [teams] that are on the [U.S.] podium with us every day.”

Worth noting: Their move to Montreal came with its own setbacks, as Baker suffered a concussion early in the season. However, they did not miss any major competition and he has since said he’s back to normal and taking care of himself.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Canada

Credentials: Three-time world medalists (silver, 2014; bronze, 2015, 2018), two-time Grand Prix Final gold medalists, three-time Canadian national champions, two-time Four Continents gold medalists

The skating world hasn’t seen much of Weaver and Poje in competition this season. They won the Grand Prix Final twice (2015, 2016) but skipped the circuit this season to perform in the Thank You, Canada tour with their fellow 2018 Olympians.

They returned to competitive ice in January for their third Canadian national title and in February, earned silver medals at Four Continents. The 2018 world bronze medalists could land on the podium again in Japan.

Worth noting: Their free dance music this season was also used by their friend Denis Ten, who was killed in his home city of Almaty, Kazakhstan in July.

“When the tragedy struck, we knew our mission in this program was to do it for Denis,” Weaver told NBCSports.com/figure-skating at their lone fall competition in September.

Honorable mention: Teams who qualified for the Grand Prix Final will also be in the mix: Russia’s Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (silver medalists), Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri (bronze), plus fourth-place finishers Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin from Russia.

MORE: How to watch the World Figure Skating Championships | Sui Wenjing, Han Cong recapture world pair title | Alina Zagitova leads after ladies’ short program | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown in first and second after men’s short

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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