Hubbell and Donohue repeat as national ice dance champions

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Madison Hubbell, who grew up in Okemos and lives in Ann Arbor, and Zachary Donohue successfully defend their title in the free dance competition Saturday during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Little Caesars Arena.

Detroit — Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue successfully defended their national title in ice dance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship Saturday as skaters with Michigan connections dominated the podium.

Hubbell, who grew up in Okemos and lives in Ann Arbor, began skating with Donohue at the Detroit Skating Club.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, rebounded brilliantly from Chock’s ankle surgery for an injury that cost them 18 months of healthy skating, to finish second.

Chock of Novi and Bates of Ann Arbor trained at the Novi Ice Arena and at the Arctic Edge in Canton, before joining Hubbell and Donohue in Montreal in recent seasons.

And, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker finished third.

Hawayek has lived in Bloomfield Hills, which she lists as her hometown. She formerly trained at the Detroit Skating Club, before decamping to Montreal with several other ice dance teams.

All three teams are pointing towards not only the World Championships in March in Japan, but the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue celebrate with their gold medals for the ice dancing title.

They all skated before significant groups of family and friends in Little Caesars Arena. The families partied together at a tailgate picnic on Cass Avenue, earlier in the day.

“Going into the final with a very, very new program, with certain parts only days old, it was a little terrifying,” Hubbell said. “And so, we had to rely on our experience as a team.”

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It proved to be a peak performance during a highly successful season, after some seasons when success proved fleeting for Hubbell and Donohue.

“You know, I think Zack and I have grown a lot over the years, and training in Montreal,” Hubbell said. “And, one of the things we’ve learned is to go out and try to do our best performance and not beat our competitors.

“That’s what we did today. We focused on each other and stayed connected. Certainly, it feels wonderful to add another title.”

Madison Hubbell waves to fans after finishing her championship free dance.

Chock and Bates pressed the issue against the defending champions.

They scored about two points less in both the rhythm dance and the free dance to finish second by just 4.36 points overall, 215.88 to 211.52.

Chock and Bates had been climbing in their careers until the injury. They are fit, seemed focused and enjoying skating, again.

“I think the change for us has been a change in our self-belief,” said Bates, who attended the University of Michigan. “I think that’s something that’s going to continue to expand.

“In the six months we’ve been in Montreal there’s been a series of changes in us. Not just in our technique and skating, but how we’ve felt and in our self-belief. I think that’s going to carry itself a long way, onwards and upwards.”

Hawayek and Baker scored 196.95 points.

“I think for us, moving to Montreal has been more than a revelation in our skating,” Hawayek said. “It’s been a growth as people.

“We’ve been able to train with our training mates here,” she said of the other two teams. “And, we have like 16 other incredible training mates, as well.

“Every day we go and are very influenced by their training, and we improve and learn from everyone and take up what we can from all of the teams and all of the coaches. It’s really a family-oriented training center.”

Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete in the championship free dance during the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Saturday.

Despite the recent move of a plethora of ice dance teams to Montreal, where coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer now hold enormous influence over international ice dancing, the national championship became a bit of a homecoming Saturday during the medals ceremony, for those who were born, lived, or trained in Michigan.

Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White joined Olympic silver medalists  Tanith Belbin White and Ben Agosto and two skaters who started the big trend towards internationally competitive ice dancers training in Metro Detroit, Jerod Swallow and Elizabeth Punsalan, to distribute the medals and garlands.

They represented participation in the Olympics from 1994 through 2014.

It unfolded like a bravura display of ice dance royalty near center ice in Little Caesars Arena.

“For sure, it’s an honor to carry on that tradition,” Donahue said. “We got a little awestruck in seeing them walk out there.

“The U.S. has such a long-standing tradition of excellence in ice dance, and it’s only growing. To be part of that tradition in anyway, it’s been a real honor.”

Twitter: @greggkrupa