Madison Hubbell, Zach Donohue win again at US nationals

Posted at 10:57 PM, Jan 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-27 08:23:32-05

DETROIT (AP) -- Competitors but not exactly rivals, the top two ice dancing teams at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships put on a stirring show for all their fans in Michigan.

In the end, the order of finish was no real surprise: Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in first place, with Madison Chock and Evan Bates in second.

Hubbell and Donohue won their second straight national title Saturday, beating out Chock and Bates on a night with plenty of local intrigue. Hubbell was born in Michigan, and she and Donohue used to train in the state. Chock and Bates are from Michigan as well.

"To be able to have so much of my family -- and being quite rowdy, to be honest -- in the audience, we've learned how to take that love and support and fuel ourselves to the performance, but to not get distracted," Hubbell said.

Earlier Saturday, Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc won the pairs competition, and world champion Nathan Chen had the top short program in the men's event.

The top three teams in the ice dancing event now train in Montreal under the same coaches. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker finished third. The camaraderie between the three teams was evident in their news conferences this week.

"I know a lot of people ask questions, assuming that there's a big rivalry between all of us," Hawayek said. "But it's the exact opposite."

Chock and Bates had the crowd clapping along to their routine, which included the music of Elvis Presley, but it wasn't enough to catch Hubbell and Donohue after the defending champions skated a clean, beautifully flowing program to the 1996 Romeo and Juliet soundtrack.

Hubbell and Donohue finished with 215.88 points, and Chock and Bates were at 211.52.

Chock and Bates, the 2015 national champions, were pleased with their performance. They've been trying to return to peak form after an eventful offseason in which Chock had ankle surgery and the team relocated to Montreal.

"It's the validation of, we're back," Bates said. "We skated well for our fans, friends and family."

The event was missing one team of local favorites that could have added even more buzz: Maia and Alex Shibutani, the 2018 Olympic bronze medalists from Ann Arbor, are not competing this season.

The victory by Cain and LeDuc capped an impressive comeback from Cain's frightening injury last month, when she fell on her head at an event in Croatia and ended up in the hospital.

"I was laying on a stretcher in the same costume I wore tonight, staring at the ceiling," she said.

Even then, Cain said, she was hoping to be back on top of the podium in short order, and she fulfilled that wish Saturday. Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea, who led the pairs event after the short program, fell to fourth after a disappointing free skate. They had a problem with an early combination and then failed to perform a lift near the end of their program.

"Sometimes, you mess up when it counts most," O'Shea said.

Cain and LeDuc, skating last, took advantage , and by the time their program ended, they appeared well aware that they were about to become champions. They finished with a score of 212.36. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (201.64) finished second, followed by Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay.

Defending champions Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim finished seventh.

Chen took the lead in the men's competition with a predictably dazzling short program, moving into great position to win a third straight national title. He received a score of 113.42 for a program that included a quad flip and a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination. Jason Brown (100.52) and Vincent Zhou (100.25) were second and third. All three were sharp, but Chen is the clear favorite heading into Sunday's free skate.

"Everything that I've done, good and bad, in the past stays in the past," Chen said. "Every nationals is a challenge, so I'm glad I skated the way I did."

Chen earned 15.4 points just for his quad flip, which looked effortless.

"Overall, I thought the performance has been developing comparatively to the past couple of competitions, so I'm pretty satisfied," he said.