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Hubbell, Olson join DSC's ice dancing roster

Sister Madison's success inspires Keiffer to get back out on the ice

Keiffer Hubbell last competed at the 2011 U.S. Championships with sister Madison.
Keiffer Hubbell last competed at the 2011 U.S. Championships with sister Madison. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/30/2012) - Breaking up is hard to do, especially if your partner is your sister.

After placing fourth at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with his sister Madison, Keiffer Hubbell was ready to call it quits. Injuries, plus a feeling that he and Madison may have reached their peak, had taken their toll.

"I thought, most likely, I was going to retire from competitive figure skating," the 23-year-old ice dancer said. "I had come off a back injury and just overall Maddie and I felt we had taken it everywhere we could. I think we were in agreement with regard to that.

"It didn't make it any easier, though. It was definitely hard to end such a long partnership."

A year later, Keiffer is back on the ice with new partner Anastasia Olson, feeling confident and hopeful. But the road had a few twists and turns.

Soon after Madison and Keiffer decided to split last spring, coaches at the Detroit Skating Club paired Madison with Zachary Donohue. The new team impressed U.S. Figure Skating officials enough to be assigned to the Nebelhorn Trophy, where they won the gold in their international debut. They went on to win a bronze medal at the 2012 U.S. Championships and place 10th at the 2012 World Championships.

Meanwhile, physical therapy and time off the ice had healed Keiffer's back. Watching his sister train with a new partner every day sparked him to reconsider retirement.

"I was coaching at the rink, but ultimately it wasn't very satisfying," he said. "I saw Maddie and Zach skating together, and I realized how much I wanted to skate. I had some tryouts, but I didn't find the right person."

After a few no-goes, Keiffer thought he found a partner in Vanessa Crone, the 2011 Canadian ice dance champion (with Paul Poirier), but citizenship and eligibility issues proved too much to overcome.

"We had an extended tryout; it was even pretty much a short-term partnership," he said. "We were working on choreography and getting ready to compete this coming season. We talked about a bunch of different issues. Ultimately, I decided I didn't want to be released from USFS, and that ended that."

Things stayed in a holding pattern until after the 2012 U.S. Championships, when another DSC team, Olson and Jordan Cowan, ended their partnership after a seventh-place finish. The DSC coaches -- including Pasquale Camerlengo, Anjelika Krylova, Massimo Scali, Natalia Annenko-Deller and Elizabeth Punsalan -- suggested Keiffer and Anastasia give it a try, and both jumped at the chance.

"I had just been waiting for that opportunity," Keiffer said. "Anastasia came back from nationals and had a week before she went on vacation, so we got right on trying out, and it went really well. I didn't have to think twice about it."

"The option became available, and we just took it and had a really good tryout," the 19-year-old Olson said. "We've been working ever since. I think we have a lot of strengths together as a team, and I think we're progressing really well already."

A shared history -- both trained for years with Yaroslava Nechaeva and Yuri Chesnichenko in Ann Arbor before moving to DSC -- helped pave the way. Their respective heights (Olson is 5'5" while Hubbell is 6') give them a long line, and the differential works well for the complicated lifts now required in dance.

"I think as far as physical matches go, I have never tried out or skated with somebody who is a better physical match for me than Anastasia," Hubbell said.

Hubbell and Olson have spent much of the last few weeks working on a free dance that, they hope, will show their strengths while also bringing out their personalities.

"They've chosen a program that will bring out their ability to dance on the ice," Scali said. "Of course, there is still a lot of work to do, but I have to say it is going well.

"We're pushing to do a program that's very entertaining. I think they can pull it off really well, with the way they express themselves and dance as partners."

The new team is also drilling the Yankee Polka, the required pattern dance for the 2012-13 short dance.

"We just learned it," Olson said. "I think it's going to be fun. It's certainly a challenge."

"The way they judge the [pattern] dances now is different than before," said Scali, who competed the Yankee Polka with partner Federica Faiella. "The focus is on key points [determined by the ISU], and I think that the most important thing is to get the rhythm of the dance. I think it is going to be fine."

Like sister Madison last season, Keiffer looks forward to the freer range of program choices that comes with skating with a non-sibling.

"On the ice, I can relate to Anastasia in a different way than I related to Madison," he said. "It adds a whole different element that I didn't even realize was part of the skating, and I think that it can actually be a pretty big component.

"Maddie and I had a strong, successful partnership, and we got along fantastic, but being brother and sister we both kind of fell into our own niche. I think that you'll see a more assertive role from me in my partnership with Anastasia than you saw in my partnership with Maddie."

Hubbell and Olson plan to compete this summer, including at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in late July, in hopes of being considered for an international assignment.

The DSC dream team

Hubbell and Olson share the ice at DSC not only with Hubbell and Donohue but world bronze medalists Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat; Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who finished fourth in the world; and Australians Danielle O'Brien and Greg Merriman, who last month became the first ice dancers from their country to qualify for the free dance at the world championships.

"We have a whole training camp; it's all come together because of the coaches and the facility," Keiffer said. "Pasquale and Anjelika are kind of the head coaches, and then Massimo does a lot of choreography work along with Pasquale. Anjelika is the harshest critic of everything you do, and that's really important. She can say, 'That works, that doesn't.'

"Natalia and Liz are great technicians, and they've been working with us on the Yankee Polka and the technique of the footwork. The DSC [ice dancers] got strong levels this past season and the season before."

In 2012, the DSC coaching team took five teams (including Italians Lorenza Alessandrini and Simone Vaturi, who may return this summer, pending visa issues) to the world championships.

"Having five teams going to worlds, all pushing each other, was beautiful," Scali said. "The way we structure our work, with all of the coaches, is well organized. We have a natural way of cooperating and working together, sometimes without even talking to each other.

"They all get 100 percent of what we can give. I love every one of them. Sometimes I feel like I'm more of the older brother."