Years of frustrating finishes finally paid off for Madison Hubbell at Sunday’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Alongside teammate Zachary Donohue, Hubbell — a former Sylvania resident — won her first ice dancing national title after three years of bronze medals. This time around, the duo not only knocked off the two-time defending champions, Maia and Alex Shibutani, but qualified to their first Winter Olympic Games, which begin Feb. 9 in South Korea.
On Monday, Hubbell talked with The Blade about her local roots, a drastic partner change, and her redemptive championship.
Madison Hubbell, left, and Zachary Donohue pose after winning the free dance event Sunday.
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Q: What does finally winning the U.S. Championship mean to you?
A: This title has been a long time coming. I just feel like I’ve been striving for it for so long. You believe in yourself, but there are moments where you’re thinking, ‘Maybe it just won’t ever happen for me.’ Luckily, I have my partner and my family to thank for always being there to encourage in the moments where I kind of wasn’t able to encourage myself. It’s a nice little boost going into the Games.
Q: You’ve been close to this point before, especially in the 2013-2014 when you missed qualifying by 2.17 points despite skating through a torn labrum. Was that one of the points where you considered your dream to be in jeopardy?
A: An injury is every athlete’s worst enemy. It just came at the wrong moment during the Olympic season, and it’s something that so many athletes in sports like ours suffer, but I really didn’t have any knowledge of it or resources. To miss the team by such a small margin, knowing that we weren’t able to fulfill our potential, it was really heartbreaking.
Q: You mentioned after the win that you and your partner, Zachary Donohue, needed to avoid thinking about the crowd during your performance? Why would you do that, considering the audience was so supportive?
A: I think we always saw our love of the crowd and performing as a pro, and we didn’t recognize the cons that came with it. We’ve made some mistakes in our career at really critical moments when we were feeling great, and we didn’t really realize at the time that sometimes feeling that great, that energized, can be just as sabotaging as not feeling great and being nervous. We’ve been working on really staying in the moment, knowing that if we train our hardest, we don’t have to do more or push harder.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue react to scores which won the pairs skate event.
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Q: You and Zach notably dated even while you were skating partners, but you decided to break up to focus on the sport. Was that tough?
A: I think that it’s always tough, right, breakups and love? We realized that our love for each other was something different than boyfriend and girlfriend. Our chemistry is something that works really well on the ice, but we just realized that we were better off as friends, or as family, really. For some teams, that could’ve really thrown a wrench into things, but for us, it went pretty seamlessly. It was better for our career and, honestly, better for our relationship.
Madison and Keiffer Hubbell compete in the compulsory dance competition at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland on Jan. 21, 2009.
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Q: You also used to compete with your brother, Keiffer, but split up due to his nagging injuries — he seriously contemplated retirement — and a feeling that you reached your peak together. What made you stick with skating after that?
A: My whole life, really, I’d say that if Keiffer quit, I was done because I didn’t want to skate with anyone else. It was a testament to how deep our love for skating with each other was. I didn’t feel like I was done with my career yet, and when Zach came along at the same time Keiffer quit, it almost seemed like fate. For me, skating was never a business deal, it was never super separate from family. Over time, it just sort of happened that Zach became a part of our family. Now we have the support of Keiffer and he’s one of our biggest fans.
Q: Especially when you were younger and dancing with your brother, did you have difficulty separating figure skating from ordinary family life?
A: My parents weren’t those rink-rat parents that followed us every day to watch what we were doing, and [skating] never really crossed over. We were just kids at home, and we had another older brother [Zachary, who is now 31] who couldn’t care less about skating and what happened that day at the rink. I think that was a really cool dynamic: at home we were just two of the three siblings.
Q: You were born in Lansing, Michigan, but you also lived in Sylvania for some of your childhood. Are you still connected to the area at all?
A: I think it’s a very welcoming community. Unfortunately, I got so busy with skating, I didn’t get to go to public school there. My family still lives there in the Sylvania area — my brother’s starting a career in real estate there, my father is a lawyer downtown. My mom worked at Ventura’s [Mexican Restaurant] to help us pay for skating, so I still have all the ladies at Ventura’s that root for me.
Q: Speaking of your mother, she traveled with you to this year’s U.S. Championships even though they were in San Jose, California. Why’d she go this time around?
A: I think she had a feeling that this year could be our time, so that was a wonderful gift to be able to share this moment with her. I held it together pretty well, didn’t cry too much, until I saw her in the stands after the awards and we finally got to hug. Then I definitely cried like a baby.
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