Ice Network

Shpilband believes gold within Chock, Bates' reach

Achieving Level 4's for paso doble patterns may be key to reaching podium
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Igor Shpilband said he prefers seeing Madison Chock and Evan Bates' 'An American in Paris' free dance 'in color.' -Getty Images

Ice dance couples trained by Igor Shpilband have won three of the last four world titles. At the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships, Madison Chock and Evan Bates will look to make it four out of the last five.

To do that, the U.S. champions must defeat Canadian world silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who have come out on top the previous three times the teams met this season: at the Nebelhorn Trophy, the Grand Prix Final and the Four Continents Championships in Seoul last month.

"Absolutely, Madison and Evan can win," said Shpilband, who coaches the team in Novi, Michigan. "They beat [Weaver and Poje] this year in the free dance (at Nebelhorn); they beat them in the short dance (at Four Continents). Why could they not beat them overall? Of course they can win gold."

Bates echoed their coach's words on a media call last week.

"Our programs are capable of (winning) the gold medal," the 26-year-old said. "We have to seize the moment and go out there and have one of those performances you remember, even after you retire."

Like most ice dance coaches, Shpilband has adjusted elements in the team's paso doble short dance, as well as its free dance to Gershwin's An American in Paris, throughout the season. The tweaks continued even after the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, in the two-week period leading up to Four Continents.

In Seoul, the U.S. champions earned Level 3 on both step sequences in their free dance; they may need Level 4's to prevail in Shanghai.

"With no time, we decided to change half of our circular footwork (for Four Continents)," Bates said. "We did it, but the steps felt really new. (At worlds) I think they will be executed better."

"We made the changes because they want to be the best," Shpilband said. "They want to win gold."

The team made a far more obvious change in Seoul, replacing their black-and-white costumes with vivid maroon-and-blue outfits.

"We just wanted to make something fresh for the second half of the season, something in color," said Chock, who designs most of the team's costumes. "We had done black and white, and I think that was a very specific look. We'll decide which (to wear) when we get [to Shanghai]."

Shpilband has already cast his vote.

"I think they will wear the new costumes," he said. "I like to see the program in color."

Shibutanis ride momentum from Four Continents

U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who placed in a virtual tie with Chock and Bates in the short dance at the U.S. championships in January, got a big momentum boost at Four Continents. In Seoul, the siblings defeated Weaver and Poje in the short dance and earned personal-best scores for both of their programs.

"Since Four Continents, I think that we've learned we're really headed in the right direction," Maia said on the team's media call. "Our technical score really improved in both programs; our (total) scores for both programs really improved from earlier this season."

"We had a bunch of goals set in place for things we wanted to adjust, and very pleasantly we were happy with how our scores reflected the changes and adjustments we made," Alex said. "The programs are reaching their peak potential for the world championships."

Like Chock and Bates, the siblings and their coaches, including Marina Zoueva, Massimo Scali and the rest of the team in Canton, Michigan, have tweaked step sequences in hopes of earning Level 4's in Shanghai.

"We've definitely adjusted a few transitions," Maia said. "We were extremely happy with the paso and footwork levels (at Four Continents). We got (Levels) 4 and 3 in the paso, and we continue to strengthen the [steps]; our goal is 4 and 4. ... We've focused on polishing every last detail so when we are in Shanghai we put out our best performances of the season."

Hubbell, Donohue back to full strength

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue also gained momentum from Four Continents, although for a far different reason.

The U.S. bronze medalists were left off the U.S. team in favor of their Detroit Skating Club (DSC) training partners, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker.

The break turned out to be a blessing in disguise, giving the team more time for full-out training of their programs, especially their Great Gatsby free dance. It's an opportunity they didn't have earlier this season, when Hubbell was still feeling the aftereffects of hip (labrum) surgery in March 2014.

"It's been a challenge, the past two years for us, and we pushed through a lot of hardship to be on the other side of it," Hubbell said on the team's media call. "To train our hardest, with no doubts, means the world to us."

"At nationals there was still that part, 'Let's not push too hard, due to [Hubbell's] recovery,'" Donohue said. "The last six weeks have been full out, and that really makes a difference. We are not going to be holding back in Shanghai."

Hubbell and Donohue competed at the 2012 World Championships during their first season together, placing 10th overall. They qualified for worlds last season after Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White withdrew, but Hubbell's hip injury prevented them from competing. Now, they hope to strengthen their standing on the world stage.

"Most people see us as a top-level team that, unfortunately, for the last two seasons had injuries and just not the easiest go of it," Hubbell said. "What we have to prove here at worlds, and next season, is be as strong as we can be, skate 100 percent full out in practice every day, do run-throughs and compete at the highest level so no one has any questions."

Like Chock and Bates, the skaters will sport new free dance costumes in Shanghai, created by Hubbell's mother, Sue.

"We felt that amidst a crowd of very beautiful gowns and rhinestones and glitz, we had to stand out," Hubbell said. "My mom put a lot of work into making something we love. It's something a little bit more 'wow,' to match the program."