Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue about their Olympic experience and future goals.

During The Stars On Ice show in Florida, Madison and Zachary share their thoughts about the past season, Olympic experience and future plans.


-Congratulations on your successful season, guys! This year you've achieved a lot and received a lot of support from your fans.
M: Thank you!
-Will we see you at Skate for Hope this August? (Skate For Hope -an annual figure skating show held in Florida to support cancer research, where Madison and Zachary participated last year)
M: We are not sure, we would like to, but if it comes at the bad time for us, then we will have to see. We’ve heard that there won’t be a gala this year, but seminars instead.
-Is somebody going to teach workshops?
-M: Yes, to do something with the kids, they will come to local rinks and we will teach a lesson.
- So, let’s talk about your Olympic experience. These were the first Olympics for you. Did they come up to your expectations?
- M: Sure. We tried to go with no expectations, because we have never been. And we just tried to experience everything and enjoy it. But, certainly, we had our goals, and, I think, it’s pretty rare to go to your first Olympics and really be pushing to be on the podium. You know, in some ways, this skating feels like any other competition.
-Does it?
-M: Yes, in some ways. You are there, and it’s the same people, the same athletes. So, there are similarities. But I think, for so many years, you are taught that your dream is the Olympics, and you are taught it is the biggest competition. So, there was some added pressure. Definitely, the feeling of being scared - the first time that you try anything new, even that it was the same programs and the same competition, but there was a sense that this was something new that we hadn’t done before. So, yes, it was stressful and exciting. We didn’t realize how overwhelming it was until the competitions finished and we had a few days to relax and to do anything, and I got sick. Then we realized how much energy the process took.
-Going to the next Olympics, would you do anything different in the preparation process?
Z: In preparation probably not. Our coaches know how to prepare us. They are the best in the world and they have the top two medalists there. But I think our preparation for the next one kind of started as soon as the Games closed. It’s a growing and learning experience. Everything we learn and grow from the next four years is going to make the next Olympics different.
-Next season short dance is Tango Romantica.
-M: Yes!
-When are you going to start working on it?
-Z: Tuesday.
-Already on Tuesday? When are you planning your vacation?
-M: That’s the thing. The tour is a tough thing. We have seven weeks of this tour. And it doesn’t make sense to try and take the vacation during the tour because we don’t have time in between shows to really enjoy the vacation. That’s why we are going most of the time to go to Montreal and take three-four days that we have to keep working, find the music, so right away this Tuesday we are going to have a meeting with the coaches about the music. It will be really tough seven weeks. Experienced it last year, but it was a shorter tour. We know we have to kind of push through the process, keep on touring, stay in shape, find new elements, find new programs. We will be trying to get a lot of this work done in May and beginning of June, so that in July and August we can take time to take a few weeks of vacations, let our bodies reboot for the next season.
-So, you will take a vacation when both of your programs are ready.
-M: Yes, we’ve done it before in Montreal. You know, it is really nice if you have an opportunity to take a vacation right away after worlds to just take two weeks off, but with this tour it is not possible, and, in other words, it is a much more relaxed feeling to know that you have your programs set, you have everything done and you can really enjoy those two weeks of vacation without looking for music, without looking for ideas, and know when you come back you will go and have real training.
-Do you have any ideas of the music for the next season?
-Z: No, we haven’t touched on it yet.
-How difficult is it going to be to outdo your number from the previous season?
-Z: (Laughing) We don’t feel like we have to outdo our number. I mean, it is a lot of hype, especially on the short. People think it’s short, but our free seems to be out staple piece; I am sorry using it here. I think, the recipe we use in finding that is what is going to bring about our great new program. We found something we are very passionate about, we are very connected to, something that we really honestly enjoyed training and competing this year. It hasn’t always been that way in the past, so, I think, for us to find that to decide on before we can start choreographing process is what is going to be important.
-M: Yes, we are both very musical people. He is actually musical and he can sing. I just enjoy the music. I think, a good idea for us is that we do enjoy many types of music, and so that makes it a lot easier, as you said, to outdo, because every year we are improving how our connection is, what elements we are able to do.
-What is Tango Romantica going to be paired with?
-M: Anything.
-Z: Anything you want. Any kind of rhythm, any other type of music.
-M: This year you can keep tango, you can do tango with tango.
-Z: One tango piece or you can combine.
-It takes two to tango. What does that mean for you?
-M: I think that tango is an incredibly passionate dance, and it is so much about the connection between man and woman. And, I think, that’s one thing that is definitely an advantage for us going to the next season. It is something that we already have- that chemistry and maturity in our skating.
I honestly haven’t done much tango. I did Tango Romantica with my brother, which was an entirely different experience. And I played with a little bit of tango, but nothing really serious. With latina we took classes. It’s really important to find somebody who doesn’t really need to understand skating, but they really need to be openminded.
We have taken ballroom in the past, and we really tried to learn how a ballroom dancer moves and then put moves on the ice. Sometimes it doesn’t work on the blades, it is just clumsy. So you need to find an instructor who is willing to work with you on the ice and is willing to be open-minded for you to say: ”OK, this doesn’t work, let’s find something that looks like I am doing it the way I should be, but I am not really.” Because it is something different. And what matters is what someone outside will see is not necessarily what you are actually physically doing.
We are lucky enough that Patrice and Marie-France (Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon are Canadian coaches and former competitors) have a woman that they have been working with in their own career. She has many years of experience and she is there, she lives in Montreal. She is there many weeks of the year working with us and constantly developing the programs, changing things and finding tuning. I have no doubt that she is going to come up with a lot of really good ideas for the tango.
-You have such a big group of really fantastic dance couples. How do you maintain good relationships in the group being competitors on the ice? Zach, does it bother you? You seem very easygoing.
-Z: It is just a cover (laughs). Actually, it is kind of tricky. I think I am rather distractive than super hyper analytical. But do I pay attention to other competitors? Or to people when we are training? Yes, I mean, we watch our teammates all the time, especially those we train with. That’s one of the reasons why we moved to Montreal- to be around other athletes who motivate and inspire us. At competitions- no. At competitions I pretty much just know: OK they are done, I am going now. It doesn’t bother me.
-M: I think we realized a lot over the years, and then more with the help of our new coaching team. At the end of the day, these people are not your enemies. Yes, you want to win, but that is separate from wanting to beat somebody else. And they really approach that way in the training, like everybody is individual. Having Gabriella and Guillaume (Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are the 2018 Olympic silver medalists, three-time world champions, four-time European champions) already on top and then adding Tessa and Scott into mix, so many people asked me how it is. Is there drama? Everybody was curious about how it was going to work.
I think, our coaches live by example of just having a lot of integrity and having a lot of respect for each other. You know, it is impossible to be best friends with 25 people at your arena, but we have some very close friends. I am very close to Gabriella, I know that even not being so close with Tessa and Scott, I am going to miss them training. They have great dynamic.
-What is considered the most challenging element in ice dance? Is it twizzles?
-Z: It depends on the team. Some teams struggle with twizzles consistently. Some teams have a hard time doing lifts, some teams have a hard time doing compulsory dances. None of those are really our witnesses.
-M: It also depends on the program and the year. As the rules change, they don’t want you to easily get all level fours. It will go in cycles. This year, it was several times that I did a pretty good twizzle sequence and they gave me a level three because they called that I was looping. But I can tell you, if it was a year before, or two years before, they wouldn’t have been so picky. So things depend on rule changes, and different callers have certain things that really bother them. So, we are trying to get as close to perfection as we can. That’s why the system keeps being pushed. For Zach and I the biggest thing is to really attack mental focus. We love performing. We thrive on the energy of the audience and each other’s energy. We both are very powerful skaters, and sometime it happens that too much energy comes out, and we make mistakes.
-How do you manage to stay in sync during twizzles?
-M: We know how many twizzles we have to do first off. And then we start very basic, one set of twizzles. The coaches will say: one person is a little bit faster or a little bit slower. We try to make sure that we are spotting in the same direction. And it helps a lot with the timing. Sometimes musicality will help, depending on the program. Just little tweaks here and there. And then you just try to become more and more exactly the same in the way you twizzle. It is not always easy. Zach and I naturally don’t have the same timing twizzling, and it’s been a working progress to become really really in sync. But, eventually, we are not really watching each other, but at the same time, you feel the person’s timing beside you.
-If something does go wrong, how do you fix it?
-Z: Oh, you can’t on the twizzle sequence. If it is not perfect, especially now, when they are going to start judging the twizzle sequence as two separate people, you mess it up- that’s it. There is no leeway of forgiveness of messing up a twizzle sequence in dance. You check half a turn- your twizzle is done. Period. Over. I would say, from an outside view, it is a very difficult element just based on restrictions and points. Every other elements you can save, at least manage to get level three if something happens. To execute- easy. To execute it perfectly- not easy.
-How do you communicate if something goes wrong?
-M: That’s practice. Things go wrong all the time at practice, to be honest, and even in some of our best performances things are going wrong, but that’s what we practice- to make those little things smaller and smaller, and to practice the timing of knowing: OK, we got a half beat off from each other. I wait for him, he waits for me, and it’s like in dancing, right? The number one thing is I stay with him, he stays with me. And if the music is a little bit off, we will get back on. For a little bit off the pattern we will figure it out. If one person tries to fix it or goes without, that’s when things get a little bit messy, so that’s been a lesson we definitely have learned. We’ve competed with a lot of teams that skated together for 16, 17, 18, 19 years. Tessa and Scott have 20 years of skating together.
-But your lucky seven is also a very good experience as well.
-M: It is good.
-Z: But most people say that skating together for 7 years is novice.
-M: Yes, nice dance takes so long to get to know somebody, and what’s different is that we not only didn’t skate together, but we skated with very different techniques for many years. So, to come together and try in the midst of competing and making programs and all of that, have time to go back to the basics and relearn and educate your body and try and move in the same way, it takes a really long time. That’s why, I guess, I feel even we both are 27, some people would retire at this point of career.
-Best things are still ahead of you in your career.
-M: Yes!
-How will the new rules in the judging system affect ice dancing?
-Z: I don’t know. There are a lot of new changes. Some of small modifications to the system and some very new ways of getting points and technical critics, so it’s kind of hard to say exactly what the effects it is going to have.
-M: Right. I think next year will be interesting. The short dance with a tango is a great rhythm, and some of modifications they made, I think, will be quite interesting. They have the full pattern dance, which I love. It’s a beautiful dance, and I always think that having a set pattern really helps to compare teams, to compare the power. And because it is a full pattern, they took away one of the step sequences. So, I think, it is going to be quite interesting to see what people try and pair tango with. I think, there will be people who will be very creative. We have yet to decide if we are going traditional or creative.
-When you decided to move to Canada, was it a difficult decision?
-Both: “No”.
-Z: Skating is priority and doing what’s best encourages the best decisions. Things around can get a little tricky, and we may have more things to figure out, but it is pretty much like: OK, let’s go!
-M: The logistics are always challenging, finances, and exactly where to move, and telling our parents: “Oh, by the way, we are moving to another country”. All of those things were difficult, but it has been our priority since day one and what’s we need, and it just became very clear that it was where we wanted to go. And everything happened pretty fast. We just went to Marie-France and said: “We need something new, and that’s why it is you, and this is our goal", and they very quickly agreed with everything we said.
-And you were very productive.
-M: Oh yes!
-Our ice dance discipline is very strong comparing to the others. What do you think is happening there that is different from the other disciplines? Does everybody want to dance?
-M: (laughs) Yes, everybody wants to dance, that’s why! I am not sure, but I know that we have really good coaches in the United States, and so that helps. Also, dance for so long was dominated by the Soviet countries, and, eventually, Russian coaches came to the States. It was a norm to have a Russian coach in dance, and it became a program within the United States. Yes, we were representing America, but we were training more disciplined in the style, and I feel that for the other disciplines skating is not the older culture in our country. We don’t have the history that the other countries had. Now we see it with Rafael, he is training very elite athletes. But maybe a discipline factor is missing in some training facilities, where in general skating is a recreation here.
In many countries for many athletes skating is a way of life. It is their business that gives them a much better life.
For them, if you chose skating and it is your passion, it is going to be your priority over everything else. And here in the States, you are still going to do school, you are going to do this and that, and if you are going to skate four hours a week, it is still fine. But no, it is not enough.
-In the future, do you see yourselves coaching?
-Z: Yes.
-M: Yes.
-Maybe together? Zack, wouldn’t you want to pursue an acting career?
-Z: Oh God, no! I have no desire to ever be an actor.
-M: Maybe singing?
-Z: It’s too late to be a singer.
-M: It is never too late.
-Z: If you don’t get known anywhere before the age of 20, it’s too late.
-So, we will have even more awesome dancers!
-Z: I don’t know if all of those who exit now will also want to continue once they they retire. I have no idea what exactly Tessa and Scott are planning to do. It takes time to open up a school, it takes time to get clients. At some point, all those gaps have to be filled it. It’s not a short-term success. You have to really build a platform to work with, and it is a challenge.
Together? I don’t know, depends on where we decide to live.
-Thank you, guys, wishing you best of luck and lots of success in the new season!
-Thank you!

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