“I will never value a judge’s opinion more than my own, so we rely on our instincts.” interview with Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue
In the interview for Russian media Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue explained how the relationship between competitors in ice dance differs from other disciplines, told about plans to finish their career and shared how they managed to keep their pair after breaking up in life.
source: championat.com dd. 11th November 2021, by Ekaterina Efimova
Madison, Zachary, you’ve been together for 10 years now and you decided this season will be the last in your career. What will it be?
Zachary Donohue: After 10 years together, I would say that this is enough. It’s a beautiful long story. We are tired of each other … Joke! There are many reasons, but, above all, we are happy with our career, happy with what we have won and what we have achieved. We won almost everything we needed to win, although it’d be nice to have a few more gold medals (smiles). At some point, you realize that you will have to finish anyway. If you wait for the moment when you really don’t like figure skating, then you risk skating until you are 83 or 84 years old (laughs). We want us to have some kind of life after skating. We want to find an interesting job, start a family: I think the time has come.
Madison Hubbell: I think that 10 or 11 seasons together is a lot, although if you compare with the legends of our sport, then some have performed much longer. It seems right to us that we decided to leave at the peak, when we are doing well. We will turn 31 at the Beijing Games, and we have other ambitions in life. It is clear that there will never be a perfect moment to end your career. But we definitely don’t want to skate till 2026 (smiles).
You finished fourth at the Pyeongchang Games. Are you going to Beijing for a medal?
Zachary Donohue: In our first time being at the Olympics, we felt pressure, but now everything will be different. We could have left long before Beijing, but we just want to perform and try to get this coveted medal. It would be the icing on the cake, rather than one of the main ingredients. We will do our best to approach the Olympics in the best shape and perform there the best possible way, but we will not put too much pressure on ourselves. We have no obsession.
Have you already thought what you will do after the end of your career?
Madison Hubbell: We would like to create some projects. Maybe go on tour around the world. Although, for a start, it would be nice to decide where to live. I would like to create a school with Adrian. Maybe shorten the distance between the USA and Spain, maybe start a project in Spain. He always had to live away from his family because there were no other options.
In your discipline, a lot depends on the judges. Is it realistic to make ice dance more transparent in terms of judging?
Zachary Donohue: You need to focus on what is within your control. You cannot control the judges, but you can control the passion, facial expression, lifts.
Madison Hubbell: After so many years in our world, I can say that after every performance I still don’t know what result to expect. Even if we did everything flawlessly and everything was under control. When we got a bad score, over the past few years we have been waiting for feedback from the judges on what they wanted from us. Sometimes we were happy with the results, sometimes not.
Now there are five or six really strong ice dancing pairs that, in my opinion, deserve to win. It is difficult to compare them and decide who should win, it is obvious that each panel of judges will tell you their opinion. There are many contenders. I will never value a judge’s opinion more than my own, so we rely on our instincts. This weekend we accepted something, after listening to the opinion of the judges, and also decided to leave something to our discretion, each panel of judges has its own opinion.
It seems that in ice dance you are all really friends with each other. Why is this not so in other types of figure skating?
Madison Hubbell: We are really friends with our competitors outside the ice. Of course, sometime we are more open to communicate, and sometime we are more closed and vulnerable. This weekend we were a little upset after the rhythm dance because we counted on high levels of some elements but didn’t get them. You work hard and it doesn’t always pay off. But we need to focus on what we like about our skating. We athletes are our biggest critics, we know what we want to improve. At the Olympics, we want to show the best possible version of our program.
Zachary Donohue: There is really a lot of respect between us and our competitors. Ivan (Bukin) and I are on excellent terms, we get along very well with many of my Russian friends. In fact, I do not see an enemy in anyone. We are all athletes who try our best to show our best.
Madison Hubbell: I’ve recently heard Romain Haguenauer talk about ice dance as a mature sport compared to the more dynamic disciplines (men and women single skating) where the competitors are getting younger and younger. If you know how to jump and all the technical elements are completed, you can quickly reach the top. While in ice dance, in order to achieve the right intimacy, communication and maturity, you have to skate together for at least ten years, maybe 15. It takes time to climb to the top. And therefore you create harmony around yourself, surround yourself with friends, like-minded people.
I met many of our rivals even before I turned 20, and, of course, during this time they know something about my personal life (laughs). They know that Adrian Diaz and I have been together for seven years, they can ask when our wedding will take place and things like that. There are indeed more human moments in our discipline and certainly no hatred.
In the US, you have strong national competition with Chock-Bates …
Zachary Donohue: We are really too different.
Madison Hubbell: It all depends on the judging panel. Two great pairs, great performers. We motivate each other, each of us have their own strengths. And, of course, everyone thinks that their style is better, but we respect and love each other. The presence of competition in our country helped us to become three-time medalists of the World Championships.
Recently, many new names have appeared in ice dance. Which young pair do you like the most?
Zachary Donohue: There are wonderful dance traditions in Russia, and now you have several interesting young duets. But Americans and skaters from Asia are also showing themselves. Japan, Korea and China did not have traditions in ice dance before, but now they are emerging, and their field of activity will be much wider by 2026.
Do you follow women’s single skating? What do you feel about the young Russian champions?
Zachary Donohue: From a purely sporting point of view, when you see someone so young do these things, it is certainly very impressive! I would never do a triple axel. I would die (laughs). I tried my best to do it, but no. It’s a very delicate point to talk about a different discipline. Everything is evolving, the focus should be on mental and physical health. As long as these two things are in priority in terms of results, I support that. Otherwise, I disagree. But if you can perform at the limit of your capabilities and still live well, I will support you.
Was it difficult to decide on the choice of rhythm dance this season?
Madison Hubbell: At first we didn’t know what to choose, so we tried many options with the choreographer. We put on a song and danced to it for 20-30 seconds in order to understand what suits us best. At some point, we heard someone rehearsing to Janet Jackson and immediately clicked: here is our music! We were looking for something that would make a strong impression even with the costumes, which would be different from what we did last time. Janet Jackson was something very recognizable even in body language. From the first time we tried this music off ice, everything was perfect. Then we got down to work on the program and so far we are happy with what worked out.
What can you say about the programs of the Russians this season? What have you seen?
Zachary Donohue: I have not yet seen Katsalapov and Sinitsina, but they are both very talented, and I am sure that they will have an excellent program. But we just saw Stepanova and Bukin at the Grand Prix in Turin, and knowing that this is their first performance this season, I want to say: congratulations, this is really cool!
Madison Hubbell: I saw something on Instagram, read that some pairs had injuries and problems, but we hope that everyone will approach the main competitions of the season in their best shape.
Madison, before you paired up with Zachary, your partners were Nicholas Donahue and Kieffer Hubbell. Looks like Santa Barbara.
Madison Hubbell: Exactly (laughs). I’ll tell you. To begin with, my first partner Nicholas, the only thing they have in common with Zach is a last name, although many for some reason think that they are brothers. I skated on a small skating rink where I grew up, and we were teamed up just for a sitcom. Well, that is, in fact, we did not dance together and never skated together before. Then Nick’s mother said that we should try, but he was strange and funny guy: he never took off his glasses, he wanted to skate with his eyes closed. I was only 7 years old then. And his mother was very overbearing person, once she went into a secret room to secretly look at the protocols. She was caught, and because of this, her son was banned from competing. So I was left without a partner (laughs).
We had no other options, so my mother said: “Your brother wants to skate with you!”. Only eight years later that I found out that parents were paying him to do it (laughs). We can say that we even achieved some success at the youth level, but the competition was very strong then. Kieffer was not competitive, he did not like to fight. He looked at others and admired, said: “How great they are.” I remember how we saw Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov when they won the World Junior Championships. He looked at me and said, “They are so superior to us.” He saw others as good and us as weak, plus he was always very nervous. In general, after three or four years, he began to cry and told me that he doesn’t like to compete and that he is very sorry because he knows how much I love figure skating. He told me: “Madie, you are so strong, but I can’t take it anymore.”
But we haven’t found out how Zachary appeared in this story.
Madison Hubbell: I skated alone for a month and did not know what would happen next. And then this guy with a light tuft of hair appeared and offered to train together (laughs). We used to be rivals, but we didn’t like each other from a young age … Zach’s coach convinced me to skate with him, and as soon as we started working together, I realized that he was really good. And after another three months we started dating.
Zachary Donohue: And then she left me (laughs). We’ve been together for almost three years. The relationship did not work out, but on the ice our pair was very strong, and we did well. Therefore, for the sake of sports, we kept our duet.
Related topics: Madison Hubbell Zachary Donohue
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