Three ice dance favorites for podium at U.S. National Figure Skating Championships
Sibling ice dance team Maia and Alex Shibutani are pursuing their third consecutive U.S. title this year at the National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose. Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the 2015 national champions, are looking to reclaim their title. And four-time national bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are targeting their first-ever national title.
This season, the three teams have been closer than ever. At December’s prestigious Grand Prix Final, the Shibutanis captured the bronze medal, but by an incredibly slim margin. The Shibutanis out-scored Hubbell and Donohue, who were fourth, by 0.60 points. Chock and Bates landed in fifth place, behind by 0.25 points.
Nationals will be the second head-to-head competition this season for the three dance teams.
The championships are not an official Olympic Trials event, but do count towards what U.S. Figure Skating Association calls a “body of work.” The Olympic selection committee will take into account the results of nationals, the fall 2017 Grand Prix Final and the series overall, plus additional competitions from the prior season. Based on all of this, the 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Team will be chosen to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.
The U.S. can send three ice dance teams to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Here’s more on the ice dance teams to watch at Nationals:
Maia Shibutani, 23, and Alex Shibutani, 26:
- 2016, 2017 national champions
- Three-time world championships medalists (2011, 2016, 2017)
- Two-time Grand Prix Final medalists (2016, 2017)
Buzz about the Shibutanis: Their free dance this season is part of a trilogy. In 2015-16, they skated to Coldplay's “Fix You,” and won their first national title. The next year, they won again, this time skating to a program they titled “Evolution.” This year, they’re performing to Coldplay’s “Paradise” and call it one of the most personal programs they’ve ever created.
Their season so far: The team debuted at Rostelecom Cup, the first Grand Prix competition of the fall season, and struck gold. At Skate America, they won again. At the Grand Prix Final, they captured the bronze medal for the second consecutive year. However, Alex’s uncharacteristic twizzle mistakes in both the short dance and free dance were notable at the Final.
Notes: Winning a third national title would put the Shibutanis into the U.S. ice dance record books. They’d be tied with five other duos who have three national titles. There are five other teams with five titles, and 2014 Olympic ice dance champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the only team with six national titles.
Madison Hubbell, 26, and Zachary Donohue, 27:
- Four-time national bronze medalists (2012, 2015, 2016, 2017)
- 2014 Four Continents Championships gold medalists
Buzz about Hubbell and Donohue: In 2015, Hubbell and Donohue left their Michigan training base for a school in Montreal. They train with 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who represent Canada, and two-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. Since moving, they’ve leaned into their bluesy style and they nearly had the 2017 Worlds bronze medal in their hands, before a fluke fall from Donohue on a twizzle sequence knocked them to ninth.
Their season so far: Hubbell and Donohue began their season with a victory at September’s U.S. International Classic. They earned more hardware on the Grand Prix circuit: a bronze at Skate Canada and a silver at NHK Trophy in Japan. At the Grand Prix Final, they finished fourth by a razor-thin margin.
Notes: Their first national championships together was in San Jose in 2012. They finished with bronze medals.
Hubbell and Donohue have been through an Olympic-year national championships before. In 2014, they finished fourth and were not selected to the Sochi team. This would be the first Olympic Games for the duo.
Madison Chock, 25, and Evan Bates, 27:
- 2014 Olympians, they finished eighth
- 2015 national champions
- 2015 Worlds silver medalists
- 2016 Worlds bronze medalists
Buzz about Chock and Bates: Before teaming up, they competed against each other. They both won world junior titles with other partners.
Their season so far: Chock and Bates debuted this season at the Cup of China, where they earned a silver medal. They picked up another silver at their second Grand Prix assignment, the Internationaux de France. At the Grand Prix Final, they placed fifth.
Notes: Bates competed at the 2010 Olympics with a different partner. When that partnership dissolved, he teamed up with Chock in July 2011.
Other notable names in the ice dance field at nationals:
Kaitlin Hawayek, 21, and Jean-Luc Baker, 24: This time four years ago, Hawayek and Baker were a relatively new team rising through the ranks with ease. They were world junior champions in 2014, but struggled once moving to the senior ranks.
As Baker told NBCOlympics.com: “We know how good these American teams are that ahead of us are. But that does not mean that we’re not capable of competing with them. We’re still willing and going to push ourselves as much as possible to push for one of those spots on the Olympic team. And just prove to the United States that even though we’re a little bit younger, we’re ready for it and we want to push for this.”
Rachel Parsons, 20, and Michael Parsons, 22: Another set of siblings on the senior level. They won the world junior title in 2017, and started this season strong with a silver medal at Nepela Trophy. But, they had trouble on their senior outing on the Grand Prix series, with seventh and ninth place finishes.