Ice Network

Hubbell, Dononue quench thirst with first U.S. title

Stumble relegates Shibutanis to silver; Chock, Bates settle for bronze
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Zachary Donohue declared back in September, "We're not interested in coming in third. ... I want to win," and that's just what he and partner Madison Hubbell did Sunday. The skaters, who had won the bronze at this event three years running, moved up one spot from the short with a 118.02-point performance of their free dance, and they claimed their first U.S. title with a mark of 197.12.

Two days ago, when Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue met the press after the short dance, they were asked how it felt to be the sole team in the U.S. top three without a national title.

"Imagine you've been in a desert with no water for six years, and that will give you an idea," Donohue said.

The thirst was quenched in San Jose on Sunday, when the four-time U.S. bronze medalists leapt to gold with a steamy, smooth-as-silk free dance to Beth Hart's bluesy "Caught Out in the Rain" that dethroned two-time U.S. champions Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who won silver. Madison Chock and Evan Bates captured the free dance but had to settle for bronze.

At the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan, last month, the three couples were separated by just 0.85 points. Here, it was even closer: 0.52 points, less than the value of a single missed level.

In the past -- at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships and last season's U.S. championships -- Hubbell and Donohue were within sight of great results but faltered on one or two free dance elements. That was not the case in San Jose, where the team earned mostly +3 Grades of Execution for their slinky step sequences and subtle lifts. They earned 118.02 points, including the event's highest program component scores, despite leaving several points on the table when their spin dropped to a Level 2.

"We really love performing, and that can be pro and con. Sometimes, it gets overly exciting," Hubbell said. "Our goal today was being present, and as soon as we hit the 4-minute, 15-second mark and the music stopped and there was no way we could give away points, then that was the moment we could let ourselves go."

The skaters, teamed by former coaches Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova in 2011, reinvented themselves in 2015, when they moved from Detroit to train in Montreal under Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. There, they share the ice with the world's top two couples: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

"It feels cool to be in San Jose, where we first did a blues free dance (at the 2012 U.S. Championships)," Hubbell said. "Our team in Montreal has helped us reattack the blues with a different feeling, more sophistication, more refined quality. We also knew we wanted to do blues the Olympic season; it's when we feel most connected."

"Their free dance is super good; I think it's one of the best of the season," Lauzon said. "It suits them really well. The spin was a little bit slow, they didn't perform it well, but they performed the rest really well."

Some have thought judges were slow to embrace the tall, powerful couple, but Lauzon thinks the timing is right.

"They struggled in the past to put together back-to-back great performances, and I think the judges were waiting," he said.

The Shibutanis, who led by more than three points after the short dance, had great moments in their free dance to Coldplay's "Paradise," including spectacular twizzles and a free-wheeling rotational lift. But Maia's slight trip during the diagonal step sequence cost the team valuable GOEs and, perhaps, dropped the element to a Level 3. They placed third in the free dance with 114.60 points, and their 196.93-point total was just 0.19 less than that of Hubbell and Donohue.

"Today we had a mistake in the diagonal, which was unfortunate, but we had each other's backs out there," Maia said. "There were a lot of things about the program I'm proud of. We're going to keep working hard."

It was another in a string of disappointing near-misses for Chock and Bates, who entered the free dance nearly five points off the lead. The couple skated a powerful and sweeping free dance to John Lennon's "Imagine," highlighted by the event's most spectacular lifts, and earned the highest technical score in the field. Still, their 118.99 points was not enough to rise from third place, and they ended with 196.60 points.

"I think we've improved a lot over the last year," Bates said. "The results haven't gone our way. … I would not say we're frustrated as much as we know what we need to work on. The free dance results have been good. The short dance, we've been putting ourselves in a deficit that's too much to overcome. That's certainly what we're going to work on the next few weeks."

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, the 2014 world junior champions who placed fifth last season, skated a superb rendition of their "Liebestraum (Dream of Love)" free dance that earned 114.43 points and the pewter medal with 187.61 points.

Making their U.S. senior debut, reigning world junior champions Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons were fifth with 176.07 points.