Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue compete in the Ice Dance Free Program during the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America on Oct. 24, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
LAS VEGAS — Another chapter in U.S. figure skating’s longest rivalry was written Sunday as Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue edged out Madison Chock and Evan Bates to win a fourth consecutive Skate America crown Sunday at Orleans Arena.
Just 1.31 points separated the ice dance teams’ total scores, with Hubbell and Donohue notching the win with 209.54 points to the 208.23 for Chock and Bates. The free dance result was even closer: Hubbell and Donohue earned 125.96 points, to Chock and Bates’ 125.68. It is the third straight time the reigning U.S. champions have defeated their friends and training partners in competition.
“Something clicked this morning, and I really felt great on practice, and I just wanted to really skate for myself and really be there with Zach and present with the audience from beginning to end,” said Hubbell, 30. “I think we really accomplished that goal and, in doing so, also accomplished the other goal of coming out with gold.”
The scores were so tight the loss of a single level on an element — or a slight hesitation on a twizzle — could have been the difference-maker.
“We’re very excited to keep growing this season, pick up some more points where we can (and) work on our technical (elements) in the rhythm dance,” said Chock, 29. “But we’re absolutely thrilled with how this week went.”
Both couples debuted on to the scene in the 2011-12 season, after long careers with other partners. Since then, they have jockeyed for positions in the highly competitive U.S. ice dance rankings and often squared off for medals at the World Figure Skating Championships. Starting in 2018, they have trained side-by-side at the Ice Academy of Montreal (I.AM).
Still, the skaters hesitate to call themselves rivals.
“We don’t kind of try to play games or intimidate each other or anything like that,” Hubbell said. “It’s usually very close. We know that when they skate their best, we also have to skate our best. When we knew they were going to be at Skate America, we made that assumption that we would have to be in amazing shape. So we did everything we needed to do to (be prepared) for this challenge, and they definitely laid it out there. ... They didn’t make it easy. We expect it to be close until we retire.”
“I feel like the word rivalry is used with a negative connotation too often,” said Bates, 32. “They have shaped a lot of how we work and how driven we are. I don’t think we would be the team we are without years and years of close competitions. It’s a rivalry, but a good rivalry. Both teams want to win, but not at the expense of the respect and the friendship.”
As usual, the teams’ free dances are a study in contrasts. Hubbell and Donohue perform a sensitive, lyrical program to Anne Sila’s “Drowning” that builds to a dramatic climax. Skating to music from Daft Punk, Chock and Bates tell the otherworldly story of an astronaut and an alien’s relationship, from curiosity to conflict to understanding and, possibly, love.
Both teams performed clean, exuberant programs Sunday, each bringing the Las Vegas crowd to its feet. Hubbell and Donohue’s marks were just a shade higher for technical elements and program components.
Romain Haguenauer, one of the primary coaches for both couples, is satisfied with the skaters’ efforts at Skate America, but thinks both teams can do much better.
“The scores are very close, so (the result) is a question of taste and also of momentum, the draw, who skates before you, how the judges take your performance,” Haguenauer said.
“They did their best for what they could do today, but it is far from what they will have to do in a few months to be able to step onto the Olympic podium,” he added. “So we will take a moment to enjoy the moment, congratulate everyone and have a glass of Champagne. Then we will analyze the (judges’ scores) to find ways to maximize every element.”
Team USA’s Molly Cesanek and Yehor Yehorov, who train in Leesburg, Virginia, with a team headed by Alexei Kiliakov, placed ninth with 156.97 points.