Dance teams head to Montreal in hopes of rebirthHubbell, Donohue striving for top-two finish at U.S. championships
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, finished 10th and 13th, respectively, at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships. Both ice dance teams trained at the Detroit Skating Club under Angelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo, and neither was happy with its placement.
Both teams left Detroit this spring, moving to Montreal in hopes that the coaching team of Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer would get each back on track.
"We had no idea that Madison and Zach had the same plans, because you don't talk about these matters before they are fixed," Islam said. "One day, when we came to the rink, we just saw them and said, 'Hello -- you had the same idea?'"
The Montreal ice dance center's reputation has grown since France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron rose to world champions after finishing 13th the year before. Haguenauer brought them from Lyon, France, to Montreal when he joined his former students, Dubreuil and Lauzon, last summer.
Hubbell and Donohue are two-time U.S. bronze medalists, while Paul and Islam are three-time Canadian bronze medalists. Both are anxious to move up the rankings.
"We struggled the last few years, more for personal reasons and my injuries than for anything else," Hubbell said. "Thank god we are healthy at the moment. After worlds, we felt a bit burned out, and thought we needed someone to look at us with fresh eyes. Therefore, we made a quick decision."
"What we needed was more structure in our practices," Donohue said. "We are already passionate and creative."
Hubbell praised their new coaches' organizational skills, which she and Donohue think have prepared them well for the season.
"Our new coaches gave us a lot more discipline, [in terms of] schedules," she said. "With our preparation, we are much more ready than in other summers. This is why we just competed in the Quebec Summer Championships and tested both programs."
"On the other hand, Patrice is not only very well organized but also a technical genius," Donohue said. "He knows the rules exactly and sees around everything. Marie-France is the creative part of the team. She had an idea about our music when we came."
Their short dance music is set to K.D. Lang's rendition of "Hallelujah" and a march composed by Karl Hugo. Dubreuil choreographed their free dance to Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," performed by Daft Punk.
"I listened to it on an airplane first and thought, 'This is music for skating,'" Donohue said.
After winning two U.S. bronze medals (2012 and 2015), Hubbell and Donohue have higher ambitions for the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
"We hope for more than the third spot at the next U.S. nationals," Hubbell said. "But, at least, we want to qualify for the world championships in Boston.
"We are training new elements, which are part of our progress," she continued. "In Detroit, we were innovative as well but could not find solutions and did not get the results we had hoped for."
On a personal front, Donohue said there were pluses and minuses to training outside the United States.
"We need visas, and in Quebec, the rules are particular," he said. "On the other hand, Montreal offers so many cultural options."
The couple's next event will be the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City in September.
Same solution, similar dreams for Paul and Islam
Like their U.S. training partners, Paul and Islam are seeking a fresh start in Montreal.
"Last year was difficult for us, because we were not improving on the same route," Islam said. "After worlds, I lost a bit of motivation. I was considering whether or not I wanted to continue."
"But then Alex and I sat together and thought that our passion for skating was still there and a coaching change would be the best option," he continued. "We knew Marie-France and Patrice because they had choreographed a program for us last year. So, I called Patrice in early April, and when we came, it was nice to see some familiar faces."
For the first four weeks after they arrived in Montreal, the team went back to the basics, working on stroking exercises.
Their focus then turned to choreography for their programs, with music from The Tales of Beatrix Potter soundtrack set for the short dance and Barbra Streisand's "Where Is it Written?" planned for the free.
The Canadians, who won the short dance in Quebec but opted to skip the free, are next slated to compete at the Nebelhorn Trophy in September. Then, it's on to their Grand Prix assignments at Skate Canada and NHK Trophy.
"In the last three months, we rediscovered the joy of skating," Islam said. "At Nebelhorn, and at our Grand Prix, we hope to also rediscover the joy of competing. Our goal for the second half of the season is to finish in the top eight or 10 at worlds. At nationals this season, we want more than the third spot."