Ice Network

From the Summit: Donohue wants no less than gold

Bates credits longevity to good fortune; Zhou finds motivation in himself
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue enter this season with their sights set on one thing: winning their first U.S. title. -Getty Images

PARK CITY, UTAH - In their six trips to the U.S. championships, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue have come away with the bronze four times, including each of last three seasons.

They are, frankly speaking, sick and tired of finishing third -- and this year, they have no intention of continuing the trend.

"We're not interested in coming in third," Donohue said Tuesday during a breakout session at the 2017 Team USA Media Summit in Park City, Utah. "I actually won't accept another bronze medal. I actually won't go up on the podium to get bronze. And I don't really want silver -- I want to win. It's what we're training for."

The team got its season off to a promising start two weeks ago, when, just a few miles away in Salt Lake City, it won the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic for the third year in a row.

"We went in with a plan to win, and we did that," Donohue said. "Now, if there's something we need to change, something we need to tweak, we have some time before we go to Regina for Skate Canada, and I think there's an advantage to that."

"Win" is a word Donohue keeps repeating, and it is foremost on his and his partner's minds. That comes not only from their wanting to reach the pinnacle of the sport but also from the work the two of them have done with Steffany Hanlen, who Donohue describes as a "life coach."

Hanlen has tried to instill in them a winning mentality. She tells them, "'You're training to win, so start saying it.'"

It sounds like an obvious goal, but when you continually put out your best effort and all you have to show for it is a series of third-place finishes, frustration can set in. It's Hanlen's job to keep Hubbell and Donohue thinking positively.

"We spend less time talking about skating crap than we do about our lives and the kind of people we want to be," Donohue said. "Because at the end of the day, we're not going to score a touchdown -- we're going out there to perform, and in order to be a true performer, you have to be at peace and be one with yourself."

The couple was introduced to Hanlen through their coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who employed her as a mentor in the latter part of their career, and she's proven to be an indispensable member of their team.

"She's truly selfless in the way that she commits to us," Donohue said. "She goes out of her way to go competitions for us. She's always there, on call. She takes care of us; she wants our relationship to be as strong as it can be, while being true to who we are as people."

Who they are as ice dancers is a team that brings smoldering passion to the ice. The skaters, who dated for about 2 ½ years, realize that their on-ice connection is their strong suit, and they don't shy away from highlighting that.

"The thing we have is that raw chemistry. We don't hold back with each other, ever," Donohue said. "The thing that's been missing (with us) has been that technical execution, and that's something we're focusing so much on now. I feel like we're trying to bring that to our whole package."

If they can match their technical skill with their ability to evoke emotion through their skating, come one day in early January, they just might be able to call themselves winners.

Scimeca, Knierim different team than in 2014

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim do not have great memories of their last Olympic run. The then second-year team was looked at as one of the favorites to earn a trip to Sochi, Russia, in 2014, but they underperformed at the U.S. championships in Boston that year, causing them to go back the drawing board.

"After that competition, we sat down with our coaches and made a list of things we need to do over the next four years in order to make sure we're going into that 2018 season confident in how we were seasoned and how we were skating, and we've been checking things off as we go," Knierim said. "I think we're a much different team than we were in 2014. We're a lot more confident, a lot more prepared for anything, especially after last year."

"Last year" is the rare stomach condition that befell Scimeca beginning in the spring and which required her to undergo a series of abdominal surgeries to alleviate the pain. She's fully recovered now, and the team has put the whole ordeal behind them.

They've also put their outing at the U.S. International Classic, where they finished second to Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro of Canada, in the rear-view mirror.

"That competition was a lot earlier than we're used to competing, and we did that on purpose: We wanted to make sure we got the programs out and had plenty of time to make adjustments before the Grand Prix season," Knierim said. "That's another reason we're only doing one senior B and not two, so we can really focus and really hunker down on the small things we need to get done for the big competitions."

The biggest of those competitions is, of course, the Olympic Games, where the U.S. will have only one pairs representative. With their strong international resume, and with U.S. Figure Skating's new Olympic selection criteria giving considerable weight to finishes at select ISU competitions, the Knierims appear to be in a good spot.

"We have a body of work we can rely on to get us on the team," Scimeca Knierim said confidently.

Something they did not have in 2014.

Chock, Bates take risk by starting season later than usual

The recent trend has been for skaters to do at least one if not two Challenger Series events before jumping into the Grand Prix Series, the thinking being that it's beneficial to get your programs out in front of a judging panel so you can pinpoint the areas you need to work on before the stakes get raised.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates are bucking that trend. They are not competing until their first Grand Prix event, Cup of China the first week of November.

"That's a first for us," said Bates, who, with Chock, did two Challenger Series events last year and one apiece in each of the two seasons before that. "That gives us extra time to polish our program and to make sure it's in the right place and looking the way we want it to before we debut it."

Extra time, yes, but how do they know if what they're doing is any good?

"We were in Chesapeake (for the annual Chesapeake Open in mid-June), we were at Champs Camp. We've gotten feedback from judges and from technical specialists. It's not like the program is completely veiled," Bates said. "It's a new experience for us, but we're hoping when we do debut the program, it'll make a splash."

Chock also stressed that at this point in their careers, she and Bates and their coach, Igor Shpilband, know what works best for the team, and that they also rely a lot on video analysis.

Bates is in his ninth season as a senior competitor and is bidding to make his third Olympic team. His longevity in skating is matched by few others.

How has he managed to last this long in such a physically demanding sport?

"A mixture of persistence, hard work and good fortune," Bates said humbly. "I certainly have dealt with injuries, I've missed a whole season before. I changed partners, I changed coaches. Things have worked out for me in a way that has allowed me to land in a good situation, and I have a partner that has a really positive attitude."

With all the experience he has under his belt, Bates can offer a bit of wisdom to those Olympic hopefuls who are going through the process for the first time in their careers.

"Don't do anything different. Stick to what's worked for you in the past," he said. "I would stress to them the importance of appreciating what is in front of you, the opportunity in front of you. You never know if you'll get the opportunity again. It's a sport, it's unpredictable. Take advantage of the moment."

Sound advice from a man who is still going strong after almost a decade of competing at the highest level of his sport.

Zhou building up to six quads

Vincent Zhou remembers the day well that he tried his first quad lutz.

"One day when Tammy [Gambill] (his coach) wasn't there, because I knew she wouldn't let me, I decided to try it on my own, and I got it on the third attempt," Zhou said. "That was amazing for me. I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it."

The ease with which Zhou learns new jumps is almost scary. Visit his website, www.govincentzhou.com, and you'll find the following chart:

Vincent Zhou's Age of Landing Jumps Clean

Rippon Quadruple Lutz  16 years 3 months old
Quadruple Flip 15 years 10 months old
Quadruple Lutz  15 years 9 months old
Quadruple Toe Loop  15 years 1 month old
Triple Axel &  14 years 10 months old
Quadruple Salchow     14 years 8 months old
All non-Axel Triple-Triple Toe Loop combinations  11 years 3 months old
Double Axel Triple Toe Loop  10 years 11 months old
Triple Loop  10 years 8 months old
Triple Lutz  10 years 4 months old
Triple Flip  10 years 4 months old
Triple Toe Loop  9 years 11 months old
Triple Salchow  9 years 7 months old
Double Axel  9 years 6 months old

 

"I'm a very intrinsically motivated person. I have a lot of ambition; I'm very competitive with myself," Zhuo said. "Trying the quad lutz wasn't motivated by other people -- it was (motivated by) myself."

This summer Zhou and his coaches set the ambitious goal of the skater packing six quads into his free skate. He's still building up to that number, however, as he will compete at the Finlandia Trophy next week with a four-quad program. For a skater with a long injury history, Zhou stressed the importance of being "careful about my body."

Despite the precautions he takes, he still had to withdraw from the Philadelphia Summer International in late July because of blisters on his ankle, which he says is better now with the help of Ortho Gel pads.

"I've been able to skate with less pain, and now no pain at all," he said.

If he remains pain free for the rest of the season, there's a very real chance we could see Zhou in PyeongChang next February.