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Hubbells rest up, win junior dance gold

Brother and sister take third national title

Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell added this junior title to the juvenile and novice ice dance crowns they won in 2003 and 2004.
Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell added this junior title to the juvenile and novice ice dance crowns they won in 2003 and 2004. (Paul Harvath)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(01/24/2008) - It's a good thing for Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell (Ann Arbor FSC) that there was a day in between the original dance and the free dance at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

After Tuesday night's OD, Keiffer came down with food poisoning. Suffering from dehydration, he had to be treated with intravenous fluids. Had the free dance been Wednesday, it would have been a struggle for him to compete.

But the day off gave him time to recover, and he and his sister went out on the Xcel Energy Center ice Thursday afternoon and won the junior ice dance event, adding a third U.S. title to their resume. The Hubbells' overall competition score of 167.48 easily bested that of silver medalists Piper Gilles and Timothy McKernan (Broadmoor SC) and bronze medalists Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein (All Year FSC/Arctic FSC).

The Hubbells took the U.S. juvenile championship in 2003 and the intermediate crown the following year but endured a three-year, gold-medal drought from 2005-07.

"One year we were sick at nationals, one year we had a small mistake," Madison said. "Last year we just had a very good team [Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates] competing against us."

Their free dance to Apocalyptico Cult's synthesizer-laden "Hope" is a dark, brooding number, and they played their parts to the hilt. They received level-fours for everything but their midline step sequence (level three) and their rotational lift (level two). He also performed an extra twizzle at the end of the sequence.

"You're twizzling pretty quickly -- to be able to count them isn't really realistic," said Madison, rushing to her brother's defense. "It's more something you just have to feel."

The über-talented Hubbells are a prime example of the old saying, "The best team doesn't always win." That phrase was applicable at last year's world junior championships, when Madison fell during, of all things, the compulsory dance.

"It's always a struggle. Everything has to work exactly as you planned and as you trained in order to get that title," Madison said. "It's not just a matter of being the best or the most prepared. It's those exact three minutes, how you perform [your program] and all the little things that go into it. It's hard to nail it when it really counts."

Things looked even bleaker for the team in the off-season. Keiffer injured multiple muscles in his right hip area and was diagnosed with pelvic dysfunction. The injury had a ripple effect, causing nerve damage in his back and legs. He received acupuncture to treat it, the results of which have been "extremely successful."

Despite their success, the Hubbells wouldn't say for certain whether they'll move up to the senior division next year.

"There are still a lot of good senior teams, a lot of great senior teams," Madison said. "We don't want to make the mistake of moving up when we're not quite ready and end up blending into the bottom of the pack. We want to stand out first year at senior."

Gilles and McKernan fell .15 points short of the bronze medal at last year's U.S. Championships and, thus, narrowly missed out on a spot on the U.S. World Junior Team.

"There's no way we were going to stay in fourth. We wouldn't let ourselves stay there," said Gilles, whose sister, Alexe, won the junior ladies title Tuesday, and whose brother, Todd, has won U.S. dance titles at the novice and junior levels. "We just have to keep pushing ourselves."

The Colorado Springs-based team received level-fours on all the elements in their Cinderella program, a first for them. They dedicated their performance to Timothy's father (also named Timothy), a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army who is in the middle of a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq.

Luckily, Mr. McKernan has an icenetwork.com subscription and was able to watch his son skate Thursday afternoon.

In their second season together, Chock and Zuerlein went from fifth-place finishers in novice at the 2007 U.S. Championships to bronze medalists at this year's event. Little was known about or expected of the team coming into this season, but a pair of medals at their two Junior Grand Prix assignments (gold in Estonia and bronze in Germany) and an appearance in the JGP Final put them on the map.

"It's been a whirlwind of events," Zuerlein said. "Our goal was to get one international event and then got another, and it snowballed from there."

Chock and Zuerlein received all level-fours for their elements, but their program components score was only fourth best in the segment. She also had a slight bobble during the twizzle sequence.

Fourth place went to Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (SC of New York/Broadmoor SC). They relocated in the off-season from Colorado Springs to Michigan to train with Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, who also coach Chock and Zuerlein.

"Something we pride ourselves on is being a member of Team Canton," Alex said.