After three years of placing third at the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue finally stepped up to the top of the medal stand. And what a year to do it – in an Olympic year.
Hubbell and Donahue pulled off one of the biggest upsets in ice dancing by beating the heavy favorites, Maia and Alex Shibutani for the national championship title.
“I think everyone can tell by my red cheeks that I’m pretty excited,” Hubbell told reporters after the victory. “It only makes this more enjoyable to know that the competition is so intense.”
Winning the title earned them a coveted spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in PyeongChang, South Korea.
They have gained respect for their determination, and for constantly bringing new style and themes to their free dance programs. Their bluesy routine, performed to Across the Sky by Rag’n’Bone Man and Caught Out in the Rain by Beth Hart, this season, is no exception.
“I absolutely hate to repeat,” said Donohue. “I always want to come up with something new. I want to find a new way of interpreting.
“Every year, we’ve tried to think, ‘What’s a different way of getting from point A to point B? How can we make this unique?’ I think we’ve found our niche in that. We’re always looking to improve, of course, and get our technique better, but we’re really trying to push the boundaries.”
Hubbell and Donohue both began as free skaters and pursued different paths into ice dancing.
Hubbell always had been fascinated by pairs skating, but realized she was going to be too tall for that. At age nine, she started ice dancing and soon teamed up with her older brother, Keiffer.
“I was drawn to the drama of dance—being able to portray stories and exciting roles,” she said. “The costumes were more elaborate. It fulfilled my need for drama—being the only girl in my family. That’s what originally sucked me in and has kept me there for the last 15 years.”
Donohue found his way into ice dance somewhat accidently. A huge growth spurt in his teens took him off the ice for a while. When he returned, he decided to give ice dance a try. It seemed natural, as he’d always excelled at choreography and footwork.
Madison and Keiffer Hubbell were U.S. Junior Ice Dance Champions, competed twice at the World Junior Championships and won the pewter medal at the U.S. Championships in seniors before Keiffer called it quits. Donohue won two bronze medals in U.S. Junior Ice Dance with Piper Gilles and also competed at the World Junior Championships. He then teamed with Alissandra Aronow for one season in seniors.
Hubbell and Donohue didn’t really have a try-out. Former competitors, they had to be encouraged to get on the ice together and just skate around. After about hour it was a done deal. Four months later, they won the prestigious Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany. That first season—in which they finished third at the U.S. Championships and 10th at the World Championships—was a whirlwind.
Donohue said much of it was a blur, but they realized how fast they were progressing and the great chemistry they had. Their potential seemed limitless.
Their perseverance and commitment were tested during the 2013-14 season as Hubbell battled a hip injury. They tried to push through the injury in the hope of making the U.S. Olympic team. After finishing fourth at the U.S. Championships and being named first alternates, they ended their season on an up note, winning the ISU Four Continents Championships. Shortly afterward, Hubbell underwent surgery and greatly appreciated how supportive Donohue was throughout the process.
In April 2015, Hubbell & Donohue announced they officially commenced training with Marie France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon at the Gadbois Centre in Montreal, Quebec. “We are so excited to start this new chapter in our career,” Hubbell said. “We have admired Marie-France and Patrice’s skating for a long time and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to learn from them.”
A love of performing will shine through whenever they skate.
“If you’re only focused on the end goal, you don’t get a chance to enjoy the process and make memories along the way,” said Donohue. “Everyone, of course, dreams of the Olympics. Madi and I want to experience all that goes into the process and every step of the way. It really is a journey for us.”