LAS VEGAS – Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have been competing together for nine seasons, and each athlete has been skating for at least 18 years total. They have seen and done it all.
Yet this season they decided to try something different.
For the first time in their careers, Hubbell and Donohue waited to start their competitive season until the grand prix circuit, which kicked off this weekend with Skate America, and enjoy a longer summer.
In addition to taking vacations, the expanded off-season removed the pressure of needing to compete and, according to Donohue, “was a really great chance for us to reconnect as a partnership, as well as really develop who we are as skaters, as students, as athletes – really our role on the ice.”
The ice dancers traditionally use the less-competitive Challenger Series events in September or earlier in October as a chance to debut their new programs on a smaller stage and solicit judges’ feedback.
While some saw their decision as risky, Hubbell and Donohue had no regrets, nor should they after winning gold at Skate America. They earned 124.58 points in the free dance for a 209.55 total and their second consecutive Skate America victory.
Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin were second with 206.57, though their free skate had the highest score of the night – 0.08 points more than Hubbell and Donohue’s, and Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen were third with a 197.53 total.
Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko were sixth (180.55 total), and Caroline Green and Michael Parsons were seventh (173.03) at their debut grand prix.
“We’re pretty happy with our decision, and we needed it more than anything,” Donohue said. “It was a time of healing, regrouping. It’s hard no matter how long you skate together. No matter how long you keep doing it, it’s the same repetitive thing over and over, and whether or not you still love it, you need to take a moment to step back to really understand all the reasons that you appreciate it and love it and continue to work hard day after day after day.”
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Using that time to develop themselves on and off the ice will help what they hope is another dominant season.
They experienced their best season to date in 2018-19, winning the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, Skate America, Skate Canada, the Grand Prix Final and U.S. championships before settling for fourth at Four Continents and bronze at worlds.
This season they will hope to build on that success as Jackson Maine and Ally, the “A Star Is Born” characters they portray in their free dance that includes songs “Shallow” and “Alibi” from the soundtrack.
Hubbell pointed to myriad minor issues their debut performance of the program had, such as her twizzles, loss of energy, being late on the music, etc. – plus Donohue has bronchitis – that they are eager to amend for their upcoming outing at next weekend’s Skate Canada in Kelowna, British Columbia.
Still, they are eager for what this program has in store for them.
They had seen the 2018 film starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, but had not considered it for free dance music; they typically prefer music that is more obscure than mainstream.
But then coach and choreographer Marie-France Dubreuil brought it to them.
“We were looking at all different options and she had a moment, saying, ‘I know you weren’t thinking of this, but for me this is music that you and Zach can embody so well; I don’t want to do just the ballad, I think you guys could pull off that kind of dance, Southern rock vibe, and if there’s a year to do it, it’s only this year,’” Hubbell recalled.
“So we started playing with the music and we tried some improvisation on the ice and it seemed to really suit our style, and I think it gives us equal chance to show up in the program. Both characters are very strong, and I like that kind of bad-boy character for Zach, I think that embodies his true character. … It’s a cool way to show off our personality within our character and show his tattoos and motorcycle, that kind of vibe that is truly him.”