By Maura Sullivan Hill, staff writer
Photo by Robin Ritoss for Ice-Dance.com
For the past three years, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have been the bronze medalists in the ice dance event at the U.S. Championships.
They finished third in the short dance at Worlds in 2017 before a disastrous fall on a twizzle by Donohue in the free dance took them out of the medals.
They have qualified for the Grand Prix Final three years in a row, but missed the podium by less than a point in December.
This year, Hubbell and Donohue have had it with “almost.”
“I’m not here to get third place for the fifth time at Nationals, that’s not an option,” Donohue told reporters in a U.S. Figure Skating media call on December 28.
“Ultimately, our goal is to skate our best at the national championships and go into our first Olympic Games very strong and end up on the podium,” Hubbell said. “We think that the changes we’ve made going into this national championships set us up well to compete against these two other teams [Maia and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates].”
Since their last outing at the Grand Prix Final in early December, Hubbell and Donohue have made some changes to their short dance.
“At the beginning of the season, we decided to make this bold move of having our non-touching midline step transition directly into our rhumba, which maybe was a bit risky in some ways. We thought it was really cool and initially got a great reaction, but at the end of the day, there was nothing that the judges could give us in extra GOE [grade of execution] for connecting those two elements and it was hard physically,” Hubbell said. “So we decided that we would make a connection between, so we know we have a little more ice coverage in the midline step. We wanted to show more flow.”
Throughout both programs, they are working on transitions that highlight their strengths. “We want to maximize that we are a bigger team than our competitors. We have more speed and longer lines,” Hubbell said.
Their goal is the top step of the podium, and their plan to get there is by skating clean programs. An error on a lift was the difference between their fourth place finish and a bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, and small mistakes making a huge impact is the story of any ice dance event. Donohue said that they are focused on “performing clean programs to the best of our capability.”
“For us, it’s always a mental thing. We have a strength of really loving the spotlight, but with that comfort level, we’ve noticed that we can get a little too excited and a little too caught up in the moment,” Hubbell said. “I don’t think, most of the time, when we make a mistake it’s that we are nervous, but that the arena and the audience are giving us so much energy…we get ahead of ourselves. We’re working on skating with a lot of precision and managing our energy levels, trying to find a way to skate at our max performance while we are still present in the moment, so that those little things that are inevitably off don’t take us by surprise, the program doesn’t unravel. We are able to control everything.”
This focus and attention to detail comes straight from their coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, and Romain Haguenauer in Montreal, where they’ve been based since the spring of 2015. Hubbell and Donohue skate there alongside the two most recent world champions, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Donohue said that they have never trained harder in their lives than they do now.
“We’re in a very positive environment where everyone pushes each other, and we have a team of coaches that works together seamlessly and selflessly,” he said. “There is no ego involved in the work. It is enjoyable for us to push ourselves and for our coaches to push us. We’re not afraid to go out on a limb and we really have a full opportunity to live and learn while we’re training here. Our partnership has improved, our communication has improved. We get on the ice and apply ourselves to what we’re doing.”
This season, they’ve applied themselves to winning that first national title in San Jose, and they’ll put it all out on the ice when competition kicks off with the short dance on Jan. 5 and concludes with the free dance on Jan. 7.
Editor’s Note: Figure Skaters Online’s Gina Capellazzi and Claire Cloutier, along with photographer Leah Adams, will be in San Jose for the U.S. Championships. Follow Figure Skaters Online on Twitter (@fsonline), Facebook (www.facebook.com/fsonline), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/figureskatersonline/) and on our website, www.figureskatersonline.com for coverage beginning January 2.