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Hubbell, Donohue aim for second gold of season

Competition at Finlandia set to feature battle of hip hop short dances
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Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue's hip hop medley short dance was a smash hit at the U.S. International Classic. -Melissa Majchrzak

With the pairs and ladies out of the way, Finlandia Trophy kind of starts anew Saturday, when the men and ice dancers take over. It feels like two completely separate events, for a few reasons.

Unlike earlier in the week, the Metro Areena main rink in Espoo is now filled with synchronized skaters, who have a short program competition in the evening. Four of the five teams competing here actually have a world title under their belt.

The rink has been re-adjusted for the needs of the synchro teams, who take up a lot of space and can't really do their off-ice warmup regimens in some corner of a corridor, like singles skaters. Also, local kids are now back training in the adjacent practice rink as it is no longer needed for the competition.

The crowd in the stands seems to have changed as well. Fans from other parts of the country who couldn't come during weekdays have arrived for the weekend, as have the parents, friends and clubmates of the 64 synchro skaters from the Helsinki area.

History of hip hop in two minutes

The favorites in the ice dance competiton are Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, sixth-place finishers at worlds and Grand Prix finalists from last season. Their main rivals are Russia's Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who have also made it to the top 10 at worlds.

Both teams, ranked number three in their respective countries, will have to prove themselves here and throughout the season in order to make a return trip to Finland in March for the 2017 World Championships.  

They also have both chosen hip hop as their optional rhythm for the short dance. The Russians haven't shown their programs for this season yet, as they didn't take part in a test skate in Russia in September due to illness. Hubbell and Donohue already wowed the audience at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City last month with their "evolution of hip hop" medley, which includes songs like "U Can't Touch This" and "Ice Ice Baby."

Coaches and judges are in agreement that the rhythm of hip hop presents a whole new set of challenges to the ice dancers.

"It is not what they do in the hip hop but it's how they do it. It's a mental thing even," renowned ice dance expert Marina Zoueva said. "It is a different type of dance, different movement, different thinking. It is challenging because in skating we move with travel and balance. Hip hop is very stable and very bouncy, and when you move that way when you skate and have to be on one leg, that is a challenge."

Also vying for a podium finish are Hubbell and Donohue's training mates, Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen, who competed at the Autumn Classic International in Montreal last week.