Ice Network

Hubbell, Donohue take slight lead over Canadians

Unique music choices mark top-two finishers; Stepanova, Bukin third
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Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron's withdrawal opened the door for a new champion, and that could very well turn out to be one of their training mates, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. The reigning Trophée Bompard bronze medalists finished first in the segment after being awarded 64.45 points for their "Hallelujah" short. -Getty Images

Team USA's Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue said they wanted to reach a new level in their skating. They have at 2015 Trophée Eric Bompard, as they won the short dance Friday evening after a brilliant waltz and march to their favorite "Hallelujah" song.

With their score of 64.45, Hubbell and Donhue improved their season's best (61.08) by more than three points. They beat Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (63.94) by half a point and Russia's Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (60.64) by almost four points.

Hubbell and Donohue's Ravensburger sections earned Levels 4 and 3, and their twizzles and curve lift were rated Level 4. Their technical score was the best of the field. Their components ranged from 7.82 to 8.04, slightly behind those of Gilles and Poirier (32.03 points for the Canadians, 31.83 for the Americans).

Hubbell and Donohue skated with a newfound class, and also with deeper and cleaner edges. Their music choice was the most original of the field. One of the problems with compulsory dances (even though they are embedded into a short dance now) was always that you heard the same piece several times in a given competition. Not so with Hubbell and Donohue.

"We chose this music with Marie[-France Dubreuil] (one of the team's coaches in Montreal)," Hubbell explained. "The story is that when we started our partnership, I was very nervous to skate with someone who was not my brother (Hubbell previously skated with her brother, Kieffer). I noticed that Zach was singing very well, and I asked him to sing this song each time I would feel nervous or would need a deeper connection with him. So this program has something like a cathartic effect on us."

Gilles and Poirier also selected very original music, only for different reasons than Hubbell and Donohue. They skated in their "Sgt. Pepper's" shiny pink and blue outfits to a short portion of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," followed by Mozart for the march sequence and "Air des Sauvages" by French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. Their two waltz sequences earned Level 3, and their twizzles and rotational lift Level 4. They skated slower than the Americans, however.

While Hubbell and Donohue's program was taken from one single piece, the Canadians' was more like a puzzle.

"The concept is a trip to the past. The program's first notes are played on the harpsichord and take us to a dream, as if we were skating in the 18th century," Gilles explained. "We enjoy doing very bizarre things. It challenges us a lot, but we try to make people think."

"We've worked a lot on improving this program: Why am doing this? How is it contributing to the whole puzzle," Poirier added. "This year the program will still have lots of potential even after the middle of the season."

Stepanova and Bukin, who won the bronze medal at the 2015 European Championships in Stockholm, skated a lively waltz and foxtrot to the soundtrack of 'The Stunt Man,' displaying long and deep edges in a very classical way, before going to a more "in the mood" dance.

"We feel happy with our performance," they said. "We did everything as planned."

Their waltz sequences earned just Level 3 and 2, but their twizzles and straight line lift were rated Level 4.

Great Britain's Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland, now coached by Igor Shpilband in Novi, Michigan, stand in fourth place with 58.34 points. They got the third-best program components score of the competition, 0.54 points ahead of the Russians.

They skated to Evgeni Doga's "My Sweet and Tender Beast" (waltz) and Bedrich Smetana's 'The Bartered Bride,' an uplifting polka.

"We did a great job today," a relieved Buckland offered. "Our components were really good. We'll have to check why we got only a Level 2 on our twizzles."