Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who placed fourth in the 2018 Winter Olympics, were the heavy favorites this weekend because nobody else from the top-nine finishers in the Pyeongchang Games competed in Everett.
EVERETT – Madison Hubbell knows ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ perhaps the greatest love story ever written, has been adapted a million times through film, music, theater and opera.
And yet, the reigning U.S. ice dance champion and world silver-medalist convinced her partner Zachary Donohue to put their spin on William Shakespeare’s tragic tale about two young star-crossed lovers who meet an early demise.
“We’ve all seen this story told and retold so many times that it’s a challenge to come up with something new,” Donohue said Sunday after the pair captured the gold medal at Skate America in Everett. “But I think we’ve put together something that’s reflective of our interpretation of great love and loss.
“It feels good to know that it’s been received well.”
Skating to a medley of songs from Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film “Romeo + Juliet,” the American couple scored 122.39 points in the free dance.
They outdistanced a watered-down field of competitors in the first ISU Grand Prix event with a total score of 200.82 – a personal best and the highest tally in the world this season.
Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri were second with 192.30 points while Russia’s Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro (181.38) finished third.
It’s the 10th consecutive Skate America title for a U.S. ice dance couple.
Hubbell and Donohue, who placed fourth in the 2018 Winter Olympics, were the heavy favorites this weekend because nobody else from the top-nine finishers in the Pyeongchang Games competed in Everett.
After the rhythm dance performance Saturday night, they had a 3.42-point first-place lead and needed to make a quick return to the ice Sunday afternoon.
“Everyone was in the same boat,” Hubbell said. “To be an elite athlete and a competitive athlete you have to learn how to manage your energy.
“That’s something Zach and I worked on last year with the intensity of the Olympic schedule. Those skills really served us well to be as fresh as possible despite only maybe 3½ hours of sleep.”
If the American couple was sleep deprived, it certainly wasn’t apparent during a warm and romantic four-minute routine that evoked the emotional angst of the literary characters.
“There’s been a million beautiful Romeo and Juliet interpretations,” Hubbell said. “There’s something Zach and I can bring to this piece with the raw emotion and the absolute intensity that goes into dying for the person that you love.”
At the conclusion of their performance, the Angel of the Winds Arena crowd erupted in cheers, waved American flags and threw bouquets of flowers and stuffed animals on the ice.
Before exiting, the couple exchanged hugs with fans in the front row.
“This is our second time competing this particular routine and it’s feeling better and better each time out,” said Donohue, referencing their victory at the U.S International Classic in Salt Lake City on Sept. 15. “It doesn’t change drastically, but sometimes a lift gets changed out or a piece of choreography will be switched around.
“You can say, we’re growing into it.”
Hubbell added: “In the beginning of the season, the growth of the program is exponential. But I have to say this is a fantastic start.”
The U.S. team of Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter, who are skating in their 14th season together, scored 180.57 points and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.
Japanese women win gold, silver
Bradie Tennell, the U.S. champion and top American at the Olympics (ninth) and worlds (sixth) this year, was once again thwarted at a chance to earn a medal in the ladies free skate by a strong international field and a few self-inflicted mistakes.
Japanese skater Satoko Miyahara, a two-time world medalist and fourth at the Olympics, finished with a total score of 219.71 points to capture the gold medal while countrywoman Kaori Sakamota (213.90) took silver.
Russia’s Sofia Samodurova (198.70) claimed bronze.
Tennell, who was fifth after the short program Saturday, turned in a dazzling, error-free routine Sunday. However, it wasn’t enough to overcome the performance of the previous day and she finished fourth at 192.89.
Americans Megan Wessenberg (170.33) was sixth and Starr Andrews (150.56) last among the 11 competitors.
The only other time the U.S. didn’t put a woman on the Skate America podium was 10 years ago, when it also was held in Everett.
“Bradie showed me something today,” said Rosalynn Sumners, who was a gold medal winner at the 1983 World Championships and 1984 Olympic silver medalist. “She looked like she belonged out there on the ice with those girls and I thought she would be good enough today to medal.”
The 54-year-old Sumners, who lives in Kirkland, has stepped away from skating in recent years, but remains a forlorn fan of the sport that’s searching for the next American star.
“Women’s skating has taken a dip since Michelle Kwan was on the scene,” Sumners said. “That was what, 13 years ago. So it’s down and we’re looking for somebody to assume the mantle and lead that next generation.
“Bradie can be the one. She has enough difficulty in her elements to compete with the top girls.”
— Skate America was the first event in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series, which moves to Canada on Oct. 26-28. The series makes stops in Finland, Japan, Russia and France before the top six performers in each discipline qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver, B.C., in December.