To all appearances, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were assertive, powerful and sharp in performing their tango rhythm dance at the Four Continents championships on Friday. The judges thought so, too, awarding the American couple the top score in the strong 12-team field, a season-best 81.95.
Hubbell is grateful to be leading the pack heading into Sunday’s finale as she and Donohue try to maintain an undefeated record in their sixth competition this season, but she saw more flaws than fans at Honda Center were able to spot.
“A little bit shaky, to be honest,” she said when asked to assess their effort. “I feel like it’s a testament to how well we’ve been training, how focused we’ve been, the improvements we’ve made that today was, I would say, my least satisfied performance of the season. Most mistakes, most shaky, but luckily you feel all that as a skater. I know what my personal best is and maybe because of all the training we’ve done, it doesn’t show from the outside. So we’re thankful for all the coaching we did at home and training we’ve done to make it appear best-case scenario even on a shaky day.”
Hubbell and Donohue have a .78 lead over Redondo Beach native Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who are among their training partners in Montreal. In fact, seven of the 12 ice dance duos competing here are based in Montreal and are coached by former ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. They all traveled from Montreal to Southern California on the same flight. “People probably thought we were strange. We were stretching in the aisle, high-fiving, and taking selfies,” Hubbell said. “It’s just a great family atmosphere with all of team USA and the Canadian team.”
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada are third, with 80.56 points. The third American entry, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, is fifth with 74.42 points.
Hubbell and Donohue were third after the opening phase of the ice dance event at the Pyeongchang Olympics but fell to fourth. They went on to finish second at the world championships, one step ahead of Weaver and Poje. Since then, Hubbell and Donohue have dominated a discipline that has become an American stronghold and they’ve put themselves on a path to win a medal at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
“In all honesty, I don’t think we’re competing against anyone else anymore,” Donohue said. “It sounds silly to say but for us and the goals we have, we can’t be focused on anyone else. We can’t be focused on repeating some kind of success that happened under different circumstances. No competition is the same so it’s nice to say ‘undefeated.’ For us, we have our own goals. That’s not really the focus for us. The focus is building throughout this season and over the next few years going into the Olympics to be the best competition.”
Chock and Bates beat Hubbell and Donohue for the best technical element score, 44.78 to 44.36, but Hubbell and Donohue had better program component scores, which are the scores for skating skills, transitions, performance, choreography, and interpretation of the music. The overall difference was so slight that even Chock couldn’t identify it. “It’s very subjective, so we don’t know what that is,” said Chock, who left Southern California when she was 13 to advance her training. “It’s such a small, small point difference that it doesn’t really make a difference.”