Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue compete during the gala exhibition event at the World Figure Skating Championships on March 28, 2021 in Stockholm.
NORWOOD, Mass. — Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue kicked off their 2022 Olympic campaign with a win at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, held last week at the Skating Club of Boston.
The victory — the ice dancers’ sixth in a row at the early-season event — was far sweeter than their Thursday afternoon practice, when their blades clashed and they took a spectacular fall during a run-through of their new Janet Jackson rhythm dance.
“We just took a nasty tumble, right when the music went, ‘Nasty,’ ” Hubbell said. “It's not always easy. We push ourselves.”
A few years ago, the spill might have derailed the run-through. As Donohue said, “We would have sat there and overthought it.” Now, they just laughed and resumed their program.
“If you fall at the end of a midline (step sequence), is it embarrassing? Yeah. I was a little like, ‘Oh man, I hope somebody’s not filming,’” Hubbell said.
“But at the same time, we tripped each other on our blades, and we just sat on our butts in a glittery unitard,” she added. “And I’m looking at Zach like, ‘Well, high-five, good drop.’ How seriously can you take it?”
Hubbell attributes their equanimity partly to simple math: When the skaters teamed up in 2011, they were 20. As they begin what both call “absolutely” their final competitive season, they have both entered their 30s.
“After so many years in this sport, you just start realizing it’s a choice,” Hubbell said. “You do it because you like it. It’s a good life. It’s a really fun way to spend your day. And at the end of the day, no matter if you win or lose, life is about experiences and doing what you love. It doesn’t mean it’s always fun.”
The skaters that will compete at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 in February — barring injury, the three-time and reigning U.S. champions are certain to qualify to represent Team USA — are far different than they were a decade ago, or even at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 where a fall at the very end of their free dance helped drop them from bronze-medal position after the short dance to fourth overall.
At first, they were known mostly for their power, deep edges and combustible on-ice chemistry; now, they have matured into possibly the best-matched and finest technicians in the sport.
Asked what the biggest change is now, from then, Donohue said, “I think the confidence in ourselves. When we first moved to train in Montreal (in April 2015) it was a big shift, relearning how to do pretty much everything, relearning relationship roles, dynamics in the partnership. Going into (PyeongChang) we had work to make up.”
“That Olympic season, we were on that pinnacle, teeter point, where we could flip in either direction,” Hubbell said. “We made a mistake at (the Grand Prix Final) and didn’t end up on the podium. And then we won nationals. And then we made a mistake at the Olympics, but we ended up (with a silver medal) at the world championships. … We were going through that process of learning how to not only be excellent, but be excellent when it counted.”
Patrice Lauzon, one of the couple’s three primary coaches in Montreal (along with Marie-France Dubreuil and Romain Hagenauer), emphasized that consistency will be the key this season.
“It is still something we are working on,” Lauzon said. “They are a very powerful and emotional team, and it is sometimes hard to contain all of that into one program. We’ve been working on that a lot and it’s improving a lot.”
In Norwood, the skaters unveiled their hip-hop themed rhythm dance set to a medley of Janet Jackson hits (“Nasty,” “Rhythm Nation” and “Rope Burn”), earning a solid early-season score of 84.03 points.