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New dance champions Hubbell, Donohue feel strong ahead of Olympic debut

Figure Skating: 2018 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Kyle Terada / USA Today Sports

New dance champions Hubbell, Donohue feel strong ahead of Olympic debut

In their Olympic debut, Hubbell and Donohue expect PyeongChang to feel a little bit like home.

After missing the 2014 Sochi Olympics by a little more than two points, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are now “riding a high.”

They became national champions for the first time in January – gold, finally, after three straight years of bronze – and were named to the PyeongChang team.

“We went right away back to practice and analyzed where we could improve,” Hubbell told reporters during a recent media teleconference. “We’ve been making some alterations to the program and putting in a lot of cardio. I think we’re feeling really strong and excited to leave [for South Korea.]”

In ice dance especially, an Olympic-year national title is seen as a reputation boost. Judges could recognize the teams that come to the Olympics as their country’s national champion in a new way.

Does it feel that way for brand-new champions Hubbell and Donohue?

“No, I don’t think it gives a leg up,” Hubbell said. “I think we’ve been very close for years. We don’t take our opponents for granted. We know they’re at home working super hard. For us, the goal isn’t to beat the Americans, the goal it so go for number one and compete as the best that we can. I don’t personally feel like, ‘I’m the national champion now, so, I’m somehow perceived as better than.’ No.”

Donohue succinctly summed it up.

“We’re competing against close to 11 other national champions all fighting to be on the podium,” he said. “While we’re now in those ranks, we’re very close together. It’s gonna be an even playing field.”

Tanith Belbin (now White) and Ben Agosto snapped a 30-year U.S. medal drought in ice dance at the Olympics in 2006 when they earned silver. Meryl Davis and Charlie White picked up the mantle with another silver in 2010, and struck gold in 2014. Hubbell and Donohue can continue that legacy, but they’ll have to contend with their training mates.

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Hubbell and Donohue train on the same ice with the top two teams in the world: Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Those two duos widely expected to vie for gold and silver, with the rest of the field fighting for bronze. The ice dancers share coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who won two world championship silver medals in their career representing Canada, plus Romain Haguenauer.

Just like any competition, coaches have to be assigned to the athletes. For coaches that train multiple top teams, there’s a bit of juggling.

“We’re very fortunate there are so many great skaters from our school and that really afforded the possibility of an Olympic experience that feels very much like home,” Hubbell said. Hubbell added that the presence life coach will be an added bonus, especially in the “distracting and overwhelming” environment of the Olympics. While Virtue and Moir are three-time Olympic medalists, it will be the first Games for both Hubbell and Donohue and Papadakis and Cizeron.

“Having somebody who centers us is going to be crucial,” Hubbell said.

Lauzon will train off-site with Hubbell and Donohue and represent Team USA. Dubreuil will stay with Virtue and Moir, and Haguenauer will with Papadakis and Cizeron.

“It works out really well that everybody has their own little separate camp,” Hubbell said. “We separate for a days of calm and come back together to have that family atmosphere before the competition starts.”

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The training mates could all be on the podium together, similar to the short dance at the 2017 World Championships. After the short dance at Worlds, Virtue/Moir were in first, Papadakis/Cizeron were in second, and Hubbell/Donohue were third. Due to a twizzle error in the free dance, Hubbell and Donohue dropped.

It’s likely that bronze could go to the top U.S. team in PyeongChang; the U.S. has three of the top six best ice dance teams in the world.

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