Ice Network

Hubbell, Donohue claim second Nebelhorn crown

American duo eclipes personal best to capture gold
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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue eclipsed their personal best after a superb performance Saturday. -Getty Images

After winning Nebelhorn two years ago, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue went on to qualify for the U.S. world team.

This season, they hope history repeats itself. The skaters, who train at Detroit Skating Club with Pasquale Camerlengo's coaching team, took home their second Nebelhorn crown with a stirring performance to Luca Micarelli's "Nocturne into Bohemian Rhapsody" that earned 90.58 points. In addition to their short dance score, they ended the competition with 147.11 points. Both tallies are higher than their previous personal bests.

Hubbell and Donohue presented a subtle program that emphasized their strong presentation and ability to show the electric connection between a man and a woman in love. They showed four excellent lifts, all of which gained Level 4, and other attractive elements. Their first step sequence earned Level 3; their second, Level 2.

"It was a great experience for us to come here again, and it's a big deal for us to win here for a second time," Donohue said. "We hope this season will be as successful as our first one together. We know it will be tough to win a spot for Sochi; there are a lot of good couples in the U.S."

Hubbell added that, upon returning to Detroit, they will work on their step sequences to increase their potential score prior to competing at Skate America.

"Concerning our levels, there is only a relatively small difference between a Level 4 and Level 2, maybe one different foot position for a second," Hubbell said. "We will train harder to avoid lower levels and add more points. We know what we have to work on."

Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin of Moscow, the 2011 world junior champions who placed fourth at Russian nationals last season, earned the silver medal with 142.14 points. They had exactly the same levels as the winning team, but lower execution marks and program component scores (PCS).

"Today's performance was much better than our short dance two days ago," Monko said. "Overall, it was not bad, we almost got the levels we expected. We certainly always hope for a higher placement, but we congratulate the winners."

Khaliavin explained why levels in the second half of programs are often lower than in the first half.

"In the beginning you are fresh and think of keeping the foot positions exactly as they were trained and planned," Khaliavin said. "But in the second half, you are exhausted and are a bit more careless about your foot positions. Plus, the difference between the levels is small. To get a Level 4 in the steps is much more difficult than to get a Level 4 in the lifts."

Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, training mates of Hubbell and Donohue in Detroit, dropped from first to third place despite gaining the highest PCS of all couples in the free dance. They ended with 141.99 points.

Paul slipped at the beginning of the twizzle sequence, and the element did not count. This mistake cost them between six and seven points. All of the other elements in their program, set mainly to music from the soundtrack of W.E., were smoothly done -- although both of their step sequences rated just Level 2.

"This was not our best performance today," Paul said. "We had a few bobbles, but it was a great stepping stone for us to be here and a good preparation for the Grand Prix season."

"At the beginning of a season it is normal that the levels of the steps are lower," Mitchell said. "We will work to improve. Later in the season, the steps work more automatically."

The fourth place of the Chinese team of Xintong Huang and Xun Zheng, who earned 133.90 points, was a bit of a surprise. This summer, they worked with Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov in Aston, Penn., but mainly trained in China throughout the year. They placed first among the teams seeking to qualify an ice dance spot for Sochi.

Turkey's Alisa Agafonova (a former Ukrainian competitor) and Alper Ucar were fifth with 127.53 points. Since last year, they train in Moscow in Alexander Zhulin's school. Another team from Detroit, Danielle O'Brien and Gregory Merriman of Australia, were sixth with 127.20 points. They, too, qualified for Sochi.

In addition to China, Turkey and Australia, Japan and Spain earned ice dance spots in Sochi.

The performance of Cathy Reed and Chris Reed, who placed seventh overall and fourth out of the five teams who won olympic entries, is especially notable, because the finish could qualify Japan to compete in the new olympic team event.

Earlier, the new Japanese pair, Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara, failed to qualify a spot in Sochi. In order to be one of the ten countries competing in the team event, a country must qualify in three of the four disciplines. It can fill in the fourth discipline with an alternate skater or team. Had the Reeds not qualified a spot, Japan would not have been eligible.

In another wrinkle, Slovakia is the first substitute in case another country does not use its ice dance spot. This will come into play if Isabella Tobias, who skates with Lithuanian Deividas Stagniunas, does not gain Lithuanian citizenship in time for Sochi. The second substitute is Poland and third substitute is Georgia.