ANAHEIM, Calif. – A stationary lift that traveled too far moved Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue right off the podium Sunday at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, clearing the way for teammates Madison Chock and Evan Bates to win the gold medal in ice dance.
Hubbell and Donohue, the reigning world silver medalists, came into the event undefeated and fresh off their second U.S. national title.
After their “Romeo and Juliet” free dance performance, they hugged for a long time, thinking they had won.
In the kiss and cry, they were stunned by their low score, with Hubbell’s mouth dropping open in dismay and Donohue saying, “No way.”
“I have to say there’s not too many times where you feel so strong after a performance,” Hubbell said, “and we felt like we really left everything out there.”
They’d noticed no problem with the lift, and said that judges who saw it during practice sessions gave them no indication of a problem. However, as Donohue lifted Hubbell in their first element Sunday, his skates moved from the second “N” in the word CONTINENTS at center ice all the way to the final “T.”
“It’s kind of a wake-up call,” Hubbell said. “We’ve had an incredibly fortunate season in the way of momentum, injury-free, just kind of shooting for the stars over and over again. So, to come here and take a really great program and have that wake-up call that we’re not untouchable is maybe welcome before the world championships to be in our best fighting shape against the rest of the world.”
Chock and Bates, appearing in only their third competition of the season after Chock’s surgery to remove chipped bone fragments in her ankle last spring, won the free dance with a score of 126.25 and a total of 207.42. Chock had aggravated the injury during the free dance warmup at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 and was in pain during their ninth-place performance.
They competed for the first time in 10 months in January in Poland, winning that event, then placed second at nationals.
“I think it’s been a whirlwind of five weeks or so since we came back to the competitive scene,” Bates said. “The amount of work that went into Maddie’s recovery and the amount of work we put in to make a strong impact to our skating and make a noticeable change was a lot.”
Canadian couples Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (203.93) and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (202.45) joined them on the podium.
Hubbell and Donohue, who had a slim .78 lead over Chock and Bates after the rhythm dance, scored just 119.71 points to place fourth in the free dance and fourth overall (201.66) with U.S. teammates Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, the defending Four Continents champions, finishing fifth (189.87).
“We would have loved to be standing on top of that podium,” Hubbell said, “but we’re incredibly proud of our performance and that mark doesn’t change that. And the other three competitors put out beautiful performances and if anybody has to take that top spot we’re happy that it’s our teammates.”
On that fateful stationary lift, Hubbell and Donohue received only the minimum base value of 1.00, plus .62 for grade of execution. In contrast, Chock and Bates had a base value of 5.30 and a grade of execution of 1.42 for a total of 6.73 on their stationary lift.
Hubbell and Donohue were also downgraded on their spin, earning a Level 2 while Chock and Bates were awarded a Level 4.
The Four Continents champions thrilled the crowd at the Honda Center when Bates carried Chock back-to-back during “Burning Love” by Elvis Presley. They were assured of at least a silver medal when Hubbell and Donohue took the ice. They had already won silver medals at Four Continents in 2015 and 2016 and bronze medals in 2013 and 2017.
“They seemed really happy when they finished skating so we assumed that it had gone well,” Chock said. “We were a bit surprised that their scores were so low. It’s not a good feeling to see your teammates have that kind of outcome. It’s not fun. We’ve been there, we know how it feels.”
Last year Chock and Bates moved to Montreal to train at the same school as Hubbell and Donohue and said they will do their best to support them.
“We’ll make sure they know that they are still champions and they are loved,” Chock said, “And they know what to do. They’ll be back. But we’ll be back, too.”
They’ll face each other again at the world championships in Saitama, Japan, next month, along with Hawayek and Baker, who also train in Montreal at the same school.
Chock and Bates are two-time world medalists, winning silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016.
“We were pretty nervous because we hadn’t gone head-to-head with the top teams yet other than Madison and Zach at nationals, which was a big step,” Chock said. “We’re really looking forward to worlds now. We feel good and grounded.”
Added Bates, “Back in the game.”
Hawayek and Baker, the 2014 world junior champions, performed to “Trampoline Theme” by The Irrepressibles and scored a season high of 11.5.45.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to be training with them because we see them on an everyday basis, so not only are they our best friends, but at the same time our biggest competitors,” Baker said. “We strive towards beating them and being as good as they are … we will prove to the judges that one day we will be on the top of the podium.”
What do they need to improve before worlds?
“Not to be very broad and vague, but everything,” said Hawayek.
Hubbell and Donohue are secure that they have “the right recipe,” said Donohue, to dethrone defending world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.
“We have fantastic programs, if not the best in the world,” said Donohue. “There’s no need to go back and change anything. The only thing is going back and double-checking what we already know. Just making sure there’s not even an ounce of question in anyone’s mind that’s watching. And otherwise continue.”
And if there is a question, he said, “I’d rather have it here and have a whole month to prepare for what’s to come, because there’s not going to be any wiggle room if we’re trying to take out the champs.”