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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue prepare to meet new challenges

By Michelle Kennedy, special to Figure Skaters Online
Photos by Robin Ritoss


Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have had a whirlwind of a year. They won their first U.S. Championships; came in fourth at the Olympic Games, just missing the podium; and completed their season by winning the silver medal at the World Championships. Looking back at the season, one of the team’s most memorable moments was standing on the podium at the World Championships.


“For me as much as our own personal accomplishment was pretty incredible, being on the podium with training mates(Gabrielle Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron) and having literally everyone from our training center skate the best programs of their season, all at the same competition was pretty incredible,” Donohue said in a media teleconference October 9. “The Olympic season is always so long that there’s part of you that is super relieved when it’s done and there’s part of you that wants to go back and experience it all over again.”


Hubbell and Donohue have skated together since 2011 yet this will be the first time that they
are entering a season as the top U.S. ice dance team. Though they did not win an Olympic
medal, it was a turning point for them as they began to establish themselves as one of the best
ice dance teams in the world.


“I think it would be foolish to try to recreate exactly what we did last year thinking it would
give the same success,” Hubbell said. “The nature of the sport is that it’s evolving…I don’t
think that we feel the pressure because we know that even if we could recreate the exact same
performance as last year, the rules have changed. It wouldn’t be necessarily good enough


There have been a few significant changes made within the ice dance world by the International Skating Union (ISU) that has brought about some new challenges and obstacles for ice dance teams to overcome. The rhythm dance (formerly the short dance) has particularly pushed the team to work harder at improving their technical abilities while working to maintain their performance quality. In this particular rhythm dance (Tango Romantica), teams are required to implement a full one minute pattern within a short two minute and 50 second timeframe.


“Sometimes we get away from those skating roots and I think it’s great that the ISU has put this huge challenge to the dance teams because I think that a lot of us will be excited to step up to the plate,” Hubbell explained. “Our focus of course is to go out and compete well for USA, which definitely you want to get a nice big score and to get key points. So we’re learning right now how to protect those levels at the same time as adding on the artistry. But I think as the season goes on you’ll see the teams are able to become more and more artistic throughout the dance and with more speed and more flow. But I think it will take a little bit more time to develop comparatively to the other dances in the other years.”


When it comes to the free dance, Hubbell and Donohue have opted to try something new for them by skating to Romeo and Juliet. Most of their programs, in the past, have not been based on a story and have been somewhat untraditional so this will be a new style for them to explore. They are hoping that it brings them to a new level of growth within their skating skills and expands their artistic abilities.


Hubbell and Donohue have opted to start their season off by competing at two Grand Prix events back-to-back. They will be competing at Skate America and a week later at Skate Canada. It would seem that having two assignments so close together would be overwhelming, but it is just the way that they wanted to arrange it for this particular season.


“Luckily we were in a position where we actually had a pretty big say in it,” Donohue said. “We were able to look and make a plan based around our options. For us, this was the best possible plan for preparing ourselves to be ready for the Grand Prixs and have enough time to really relook at things once they’re over, evaluate and move forward going in to the Final, while taking a little bit of time to recover and get the momentum back again.”


Gradually, Hubbell and Donohue have made their way from the bronze, to the silver and now occasionally they find themselves with gold. The team has not yet won their first Skate America gold, but they are hoping to do just that in Everett, Washington.


“It’s competition, yes, we want to win, and certainly our goals going forward aren’t going to be shooting for second. We’re going to be shooting for the top of the world,” Hubbell said. “But if we go out after a year of amazing training and do our absolute best performance and still get second, then we’ll shake the hands of whoever beat us on that day and be grateful for what we accomplished.”


Skate America is October 19-21 in Everett, Washington. Figure Skaters Online’s contributing writer, Michelle Kennedy will be in Everett providing live coverage! Make sure you follow Figure Skaters Online on Facebook and Twitter and check for updates.