Hubbell, Donohue defend title with story of loveReed, Muramoto impress in winning silver; Paul, Islam pull up for bronze
SALT LAKE CITY - It isn't enough that people know Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are telling a story of longing and love with their free skate.
They want the audience to feel it.
"What we're trying to bring out with our skating is that depth (of experience)," Donohue said after the team won its second consecutive U.S. International Figure Skating Classic gold with a powerful free dance that earned 102.08 points. "There is so much more to a relationship…we're trying to show that deeper connection to every breath."
That is something that is not easily accomplished when the story is being told through a competition. While some of the other couples at the Salt Lake Sportts Complex struggled with one aspect or another, Hubbell and Donohue skated with both vulnerability and confidence from start to finish.
They earned the gold by a significant margin over the second-place duo, Japan's Chris Reed and Kana Muramoto, who scored a 90.08 for the free skate, giving them a combined score of 151.18. Canada's Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam earned bronze with a free skate score of 87.26 and an overall total of 141.20.
Islam and Paul's free dance wasn't perfect, but for the Canadians, it was redemption for a disappointing short dance, after which they found themselves in fifth place.
"We're really happy with how things went today," Islam said. "It felt good to skate clean. At this time of year, that's kind of what you're going for. We felt a little bit careful out there today, so that's something to work on. … But we're motivated to get the season going."
Muramoto and Reed came into Saturday's free dance in second, and that's where they finished.
"It was hard, honestly," Muramoto said.
Reed added, "It was a great atmosphere, so we really built on the character from the start."
Muramoto said they gave the performance all they had, and now they both hope to build on it going forward.
"This weekend really gave us a confidence boost to where we can be," Reed said. "We're going to work on our identity -- not as a new team but as a contender for the top 10."
Hubbell and Donohue provided the perfect finale for some emotional and entertaining, albeit flawed, free dance performances.
They skate their program to a medley of love songs, and they have a very personal connection to the pieces used in it.
"We chose the music, the concept, just by saying, 'What is your favorite music to listen to, just sitting around at home? What is one of your favorite songs in the whole world?'" Hubbell said. "And one of my favorite songs is the middle piece, 'Can't Help Falling in Love' by Ingrid Michaelson. So we kind of created a concept around that piece, and a story between two people, and we really have a strong connection to it."
The two other American teams -- Karina Manta and Joseph Johnson, and Danielle Thomas and Daniel Eaton -- said they learned a lot and felt positive about their performances.
Johnson and Manta, who finished fifth with a free dance score of 84.16 and total of 137.76, offered a compelling program despite a fall on their last lift.
"The skate, as a whole, we feel great about," Johnson said. "Her arm has been hurting some this week, so we haven't touched the lifts since like Monday or Tuesday. …That lift relies completely on counterbalance, and we didn't quite get our weight together."
Thomas and Eaton danced to Sam Smith's "Lay Me Down."
"I think we really wanted to build on our story that we've created as a team," Thomas said. "We thought that this was good and very different from last year, so it was good to show some diversity."