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Four Continents Reporter’s Notebook: Not-so-stationary lift yields shock result in ice dance

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue arrived in Anaheim, Calif. for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships riding a white-hot winning streak that included their two Grand Prix events, the Grand Prix Final and their second consecutive U.S. Championships.

Their tango rhythm dance in Anaheim went pretty much as planned. Despite the loss of a few points on their steps, they narrowly led the field, including training partners Madison Chock and Evan Bates, heading into the free dance.

On Sunday, the skaters were all smiles as they left the ice after their routine to “Romeo + Juliet.” As they nestled into the kiss-and-cry next to coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, they thought, Hubbell later said, that they had won.

“There are not too many times we feel so strongly (about) a performance,” she said. “We left it all out there.”

Then, their score flashed up: 119.71 points, just fourth-best in the free dance. It dropped them to fourth overall with 201.66 points.

Chock and Bates, who train alongside Hubbell and Donohue in Montreal, performed a highly entertaining free dance to a medley of Michael Buble’s rendition of “Fever” and Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love,” highlighted by eye-catching and unique lifts, to win the free dance and their first Four Continents title with 207.42 points.

So, what happened?

Hubbell and Donohue open their free dance with a stationary lift: Donohue holding Hubbell aloft while rotating in place. As it turns out, it was not stationary enough, and the technical panel dropped it to base level, meaning it earned only a single point. That’s more than four points less than Hubbell and Donohue were counting on.

“It’s a lift we’ve done over and over again this season. They (the technical panel) saw it all week in practice,” Hubbell said. “It was definitely shocking to hear they did not count it as a stationary lift. It’s certainly unfortunate, we would have loved to stand on top of that podium. But we’re incredibly proud of our performance, that mark doesn’t change that.”

Replay of the lift shows Donohue traveling, and the technical panel – including Helena Gordon-Poltarak, chair of the ISU ice dancing technical committee – determined that was enough to drop the element down.

“We were told that it initially got called a Level 4 (the highest level), but upon review we were told that a stationary lift traveled just enough to not be called stationary, so it was dropped to base value,” Hubbell said. “That’s what we know so far.”

The couple also lost about two points or so on their spin, which gained just Level 2.

It’s a safe bet that Lauzon, a noted taskmaster, will be drilling the U.S. champions in these elements, as well as their rhythm dance step sequences, upon their return to Montreal.

The couple are putting a positive spin on the loss.

“We already know the (technical) panel who is going to be at the world championships and its tough,” Hubbell said. “This is kind of a good wake-up call.”

“My favorite thing is proving people wrong,” Donohue said.

Four Continents reporter’s notebook: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

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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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!

Virtue and Moir win NHK Trophy to book GP Final spot

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OSAKA, Japan (AP) – Three-time and reigning world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have won the ice dance event at the NHK Trophy to secure a place in the International Skating Union’s Grand Prix Final next month.

Virtue and Moir, who led after the short program, finished with an overall total of 198.64 points on Sunday to claim their second title of the season.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States were second with 188.35 points, with Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy placing third with 186.56.

Skating to “Tango de Roxanne” and “Come What May,” the Canadian duo combined powerful lifts with well-synchronized twizzles and smooth step sequences for 117.72 points in the free dance.

With the victory Virtue and Moir, who won their seventh Skate Canada title last month with a record score, booked their place at the Dec. 7-10 Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan.

“We’ve made some improvements this week that we’re quite proud of from Skate Canada,” Moir said. “We only had one week. We’re looking to make the same sort of transition into the final. It’s a great stepping stone here for us.”

Hubbell and Donohue, with a bronze and a silver from their two competitions, will have to wait to see if they get to go to Nagoya.

“We felt like we did a really artistic performance of our program,” Hubbell said. “We left some points on the table, but we’ll be going home, working.”

The NHK Trophy is the fourth event in the ISU’s Grand Prix series. The next competition is the Nov. 17-19 Grand Prix of France.