Ice Network

SLC snippets: Montreal life suits Hubbell, Donohue

Tursynbaeva beats Javi to the lutz; Barrie prepares for Yuzu 'mayhem'
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Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue have indulged in some of the local cuisine of Montreal -- although they both agree that poutine is off limits. -Jay Adeff

At the 2015 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City last week, Patrice Lauzon's Montreal ice dance contingent included a tall, dark-haired skater who spoke animated French to coaches and fellow skaters alike.

A French ice dancer? A French-Canadian, perhaps?

Nope, U.S. bronze medalist Zachary Donohue.

"I don't want to learn Québécois first; I want to learn (standard) French," Donohue said. "There is a very big difference. Once I get the French down, I'll add the Québécois."

You could say that after training in Montreal for five months, Donohue and his partner, Madison Hubbell, are loving life à la française.

"I like the active lifestyle there," said Hubbell, who hails from Lansing, Michigan. "We live next to our rink (Gadbois Centre), which is an area that's growing and developing; there are more and more restaurants and boutiques coming in. We are right on the Canal Lachine, so everybody is biking and running, and there are a lot of outdoor markets, which I love."

"Oh my God, it's the greatest city I've ever lived in," said Donohue, a Connecticut native who has done training stints in Colorado Springs and Detroit. "There is so much art, so much culture. For nightlife, there's Piknic Electronik, with festivals, art festivals, music festivals. There's so much to do every day, even into the winter. It has unlimited possibilities."

Hubbell shares an apartment with Spanish ice dancers Sara Hurtado and Adrià Diaz, while Donohue lives with Danish ice dancer Nikolaj Sorensen, French ice dancer Romain Le Gac and a Quebec actor, who keeps them informed of interesting restaurants.

"There is so much great food in Montreal! That's good, and it's bad," Donohue laughed.

The duo, who won their fifth international gold medal in Salt Lake City, are embracing their lives as Québécois in other ways. Marie-France Dubreuil, who coaches them with husband Lauzon, won't tolerate anything but authentic emotion on the ice, which Hubbell and Donohue deliver in their programs: a short dance to k.d. lang's rendition of "Hallelujah" and free dance to "Adagio for Tron" by Daft Punk. To that end, they're taking lessons from well-known Montreal theatrical coach Catherine Pinard.

"We've been working with her many days a week and diving into what the programs are," Hubbell said. "She doesn't like expression or showing -- she wants you to really feel the story and music."

"We've worked really hard not to do the typical 'big arm, happy face' stuff," Donohue said. "We want a real connection to our story, not a performance. We want to share our story with people, not just give them a show."

Hubbell and Donohue's rink mates, who include fellow Salt Lake City medalists Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Sorensen, and Canadians Elisabeth Paradis and François-Xavier Ouellette, have embraced the U.S. skaters.

"They are wonderful people," Paradis said. "Zachary is -- how you say? -- hysterical."

So far, they've found only one drawback to training in Quebec: poutine, a rich Montreal dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. Donohue likes it and Hubbell doesn't, but they agree it's off limits.

"It doesn't appeal to me," Hubbell said. "I like sweets a lot more than salty, and I don't like meat gravy."

"There's traditional poutine, with typical meat gravy and cheese, and then there's more of steak fries with bacon," Donohue said. "It's a meal's worth of calories in a fist. It's not worth it, but it's pretty good."

No backing down for Tursynbaeva

When you're 15 years old and 4 feet, 7 inches tall, sharing crowded practice sessions with world and Olympic men's champions might be intimidating.

Not for Kazakhstan's Elizabet Tursynbaeva. At the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, she's a boss.

"She's as tough as nails," her coach, Brian Orser, said. "Our sessions are a little bit busy right now, so when there's a space at the end of the ice for a triple lutz, she may duke it out with Javi [Fernández] to get to it. Usually, she gets it."

Tursynbaeva, who won silver at the 2015 U.S. International Classic, honed her practice cojones skating in Eteri Tutberidze's school in Moscow, where she shared the ice with Russian wunderkinds Julia Lipnitskaia and Evgenia Medvedeva. She began training under Orser in 2013, but it wasn't until visa issues were resolved this spring that she and her mother moved to Toronto full time.

"I really like Brian; he's a nice coach. And I like Toronto; it's a nice place for training," Tursynbaeva said. "Everything is in one building. I want to train there always."

She takes inspiration from Fernández, the reigning world champion, as well as Canadian champion Nam Nguyen. Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who trained in Toronto earlier this summer, is scheduled to return to the mix this week.

"They are such nice guys, [and] it's such a big pleasure to train with them," Tursynbaeva said. "They're really good skaters, and I'm learning from them. Every time (I skate with them), I'm like, 'Wow.' And they are so funny."

Orser partially attributed his young charge's impressive performances in Salt Lake City to better navigation of practice sessions.

"I tell all the kids, rather than complain about busy sessions, they're a great tool (to prepare) for when you're at a competition, with six people all over each other in a warmup," he said. "You have to stay focused. You see somebody else coming round the corner, do your jump ... [Tursynbaeva] is taking more command of the ice."

Tursynbaeva's best practice buddy at the Cricket Club may be Nguyen, the 17-year-old Canadian champion.

"[Tursynbaeva] knew she was coming to Salt Lake City, and there was altitude, so she prepared for it with extra run-throughs," Orser said. "Nam is the same way; he does a lot of run-throughs. I don't have to tell either of them (to do run-throughs)."

Tursynbaeva, fourth at the 2015 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, makes her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate America in October. Before that, she, along with Hanyu and Nguyen, will compete at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic International in Barrie, Ontario.

"She likes to get out there a lot, and I'm OK with that," Orser said. "The scores she got here (in Salt Lake City) would hold up well at a Grand Prix. It kind of creates a buzz."

Barrie prepares for "mayhem": Many were surprised when Hanyu elected to compete in Barrie, instead of his regular "B" event, the Finlandia Trophy. Last month, Japan's Olympic champion held a media day at the Cricket Club that drew 55 Japanese journalists.

"After he announced his plans, the phone was ringing off the hook for tickets to the event," Orser said. "Book your room early, Japanese fans are coming. It's going to be mayhem."

Orser added that Hanyu, who arrives at the Cricket Club this week, will train far more in Toronto this season than he did for the 2014-15 campaign.

"He will stay right through until Skate Canada, and stay after Skate Canada, and then we will go to NHK," Orser said. "I will have a lot more time with him, which was kind of missing last year."