GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Madison Hubbell, who spent part of her youth in Sylvania, and her partner, Zachary Donohue, were in third place after the short dance portion of the ice dance program Monday.
Hubbell and Donohue scored 77.75 points to sit behind 2010 Olympic champion Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillame Cizeron.
“I think it was overwhelming,” Hubbell said on NBC after the performance. “It was an emotional day for me. Just trying to let in that gratitude of being here and also be strong. I’m looking forward to being back out there [Tuesday].”
Former Sylvania resident Madison Hubbell and her partner, Zachary Donohue, placed third in the ice dance, short dance program at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.
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Team USA also has teams in fourth and seventh place after the first round of the two-round competition. The free dance competition takes place Tuesday, and the team with the high combined score between the two events will win.
Hubbell and Donohue, the U.S. champions, sit two-hundredths of a point ahead of their compatriots Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (77.73). Americans Evan Bates and Madison Chock scored 75.45.
“This is a testament to how strong ice dancing is,” Hubbell said. “We didn’t expect it to be any different. You have to be at your best to be close with this many great skaters.”
The ice dancing free dance finals begin at 8 p.m. Monday, with Hubbell and Donohue expected skate around 11 p.m.
Hubbell and Donohue, who said they didn’t want to be paired together after their first practice, skated beautifully to a samba, rhumba, samba routine. The U.S. national champions had a lot of chemistry together, and that was most noticable at the end of the routine, where their twizzle sequence was on the mark.
“There’s a lot of expectations that you can put on yourself,” Hubbell said. “Certainly we wanted to skate our best, but we just tried to do what we trained to do. We’ve been working so hard, to get rewarded for that is a great feeling.”
Virtue and Moir floated across the ice in perfect harmony, every step of their samba and rhumba in perfect unison, to break their own record for a short program with 83.67 points. Their rock-inspired rift Monday left them more than a point ahead of Papadakis and Cizeron heading into the free dance.
“We put the pressure on ourselves,” Virtue said. “It’s a big part of being tested competitors, and we push each other and we push the limits.”
Papadakis and Cizeron skated after the Canadians and were immediately thrown off by her costume, which came unhooked at the neck seconds into the music. They held things together through the wardrobe malfunction to score 81.93 points, and now will turn to their stronger free dance Tuesday.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States react as their points are posted following their performance in the ice dance, short dance program at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
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“It was pretty distracting, kind of my worst nightmare happening at the Olympics,” Papadakis said. “I told myself I don’t have a choice. I have to keep going and that’s what we did.”
Virtue and Moir won Olympic gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games, then won silver four years later in Sochi, Russia. They stepped away from competition for two years, the taxing grind of more than 15 years spent working together having taken its toll, but returned for another run. They are seeking an unprecedented fifth Olympic figure skating medal.
They were nearly unstoppable last season, winning the world championship as if they had never been away, but were upset by Papadakis and Cizeron at the Grand Prix Final in December.
They proved Monday that they’re still the team to beat.
Performing to Latin-infused music by the Rolling Stones, Eagles and Santana, Virtue and Moir were in lock-stop from the moment they stepped on the ice. They received level-four marks across the board, highlighted by their dazzling midline step sequence to open the program, and nailed their rhumba sequence on which they were harshly graded in helping Canada win the team event.
The crowd, relatively sparse compared to other figure skating sessions, roared as the three-time world champions skated off to await their scores. The fans roared again when their record numbers were read, and the longest-tenured ice dance team in Canadian history smiled and hugged.
“To go out and connect and perform like that,” Moir said, “that’s why we came back.”
Papadakis and Cizeron also received mostly level-four marks, underscored by their in-step rhumba and synchronized twizzles. The only miscue came on their closing straight line lift, perhaps because they were distracted by her emerald and blue dress revealing a bit too much.
“I felt it right away and I prayed,” Papadakis said. “That’s about what I could do.”
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