by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman

The roster for the 2016 U.S. Championships had a total of 14 teams, including one who made their senior debut together and one who returned after withdrawing from the 2015 U.S. Championships due to injury.

SHORT DANCE
 
Three teams were clustered together, separated by only four points, but were nearly eight points or more ahead of the rest of the field. 

Reigning champions Madison Chock & Evan Bates scored 75.14 points with a foxtrot to Andrea Bocelli’s “More” and waltz to “Unchained Melody” by Il Divo. The program scored level 4 for the footwork, twizzles, lift, and first pattern.  Unfortunately, the team missed a key point in the second pattern.

Chock discussed the fine-tuning of their program since the last competition.

“From the [Grand Prix] Final to nationals we settled into both of our programs a lot more,” Chock said.  “There were less changes being made so we had more time to work on the material that we had and really enhance it and work on our emotions – just being connected to the music and feeling every bit of it. I think that is the fine tuning that we really needed.”

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, reigning U.S. silver medalists, danced an animated waltz and march to the ballet Coppelia by Leo Delibes. The program earned the highest technical mark in the event (38.04) and scored 74.67 points. All five elements received level 4. Maia reflected on the performance.

“That was our strongest short dance performance of the season so far,” Maia said.  “We’ve been working extremely hard since the Grand Prix Final. Our technical levels really improved, so everything is headed in the right direction.”

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue waltzed and marched to “Hallelujah” by k.d. lang enroute to a 71.10 score, their highest of the season. The twizzles, patterns, and spin earned level 4. The partial step sequence (footwork) received level 3.

Hubbell explained the genesis of their program.

“The short dance is based on our struggle over the past few years. I had an injury. I had a concussion. Zach was really the rock that was there to support me the whole time. The days I was weak he was there to support me. It’s the transformation of doubt in my mind that we could do it or that I could recover, and realizing that we’re here and we’re strong and we’re taking all the right steps.”

Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus beat their previous national and international personal best marks with a 63.12 score.  The team waltzed and marched to Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella and earned level 4 for the twizzles and rotational lift. The 2016 event marks the team’s eighth straight appearance at US Nationals.

The ice dance competition concludes on Saturday.

FREE DANCE

The audience was pumped. Electricity was in the air. Energy bounced off the rafters. This was the scene when the final fleet of dancers took to the ice for their warm-up. The couples wove in, out, and around one another searching for a tiny spot to practice an element just one last time before the competition.

Next the announcers called their names. Each team skated to center ice and performed a free skate worthy of extended applause. The Kiss & Cry was a place of joy for some and sadness for others as scores were called.

In the end, a brand new champion was crowned. The last time a US ice dance champion didn’t successfully defend its title was in the nineties.

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani mesmerized the audience with a soul-searching interpretation of “Fix You” by Coldplay.  The cheers began before the final choreographic lift and swelled to a crescendo with the ending pose. The skaters were visibly drained at the end.

“We left it all out there,” Alex said.  “With the field that we compete against not only domestically but also internationally, that’s what it takes.” 

The three-time silver National medalists had finally cracked the golden egg and won their first senior title.

“Ice dance has a reputation for having to wait your turn,” Alex said.  “We’ve put in the work this season and I think that has really been showing across the board. We’ve taken our skating to another level this season and I think that’s reflected in our performances and in our scores.”

He later added, “In the periphery, you hear people that doubt your abilities and what our potential was as brother and sister. What we have is very special. We have never really doubted what our potential was, and I think that is what has gotten us to this point. We are confident that there is so much more we can accomplish on the ice, and that’s what we are really looking forward to doing.”

The segment earned 115.47 points. The total score was 190.14.

Madison Chock & Evan Bates skated a lyrically elegant and mature performance to “Concerto No. 2 Adagio” by Sergei Rachmaninov. The appreciative audience gave a well-deserved standing ovation to the defending champions. Unfortunately, issues on the combination spin and diagonal step sequence lowered the base value and GOE scores.

Bates talked about the performance at the press conference.

“It felt great out there today, it really did. This is the best performance we’ve put out all season. We had a little mishap on the spin I guess, we got a little lower [level] than we expected. Other than that, it felt great to skate and we were just enjoying every second of it.”

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohoe repeated as bronze medalists and exemplified confidence and consistency with a seamless performance to “Adagio for Strings” by Daft Punk. The program earned level 4 for the twizzles, lifts, and combination spin and scored 107.71.

Hubbell commented on skating after the Shibutanis and the mayhem and pandemonium that exploded in the Xcel Center.

“The uproar when the Shibutani’s won was pretty intense, but we tried to use that energy and skate our best. We’re proud of what we did.”

She later explained the change in the dance story from earlier in the season toward a more joyous experience as a man meets the Angel of Death, and she becomes his muse.

“It started out very dark and ominous and with the idea based on the journey toward death. We kind of shifted away from that; we really weren’t quite feeling it. There is that whole rule about uplifting programs.”

The total score was 178.81.

Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus used Beethoven selections to illustrate the many moods of the composer as he tried to cope with his hearing loss. The dynamic ending with three final repeated moves to the music’s crescendo capped a spectacular performance and brought the audience to its collective feet. The program received 97.34 points and a total 160.46 score.

McManus reacted to the team’s first senior dance medal.

“It was unbelievable, and it took so long for it to sink in.  It’s a testament to our brilliant coaching and all of our hard work.  We could not be more happy.”

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker (pictured, left) placed fifth with an emotional performance to The Theory of Everything soundtrack. The 2014 World Junior Champions beautifully told the love story of the brilliant scientist, Stephen Hawking and his diagnosis of a debilitating disease.

The program received 95.84 points and earned level 4 for the twizzles, lifts and spin. The total score was 158.86.


U.S. SELECTIONS FOR ISU CHAMPIONSHIP EVENTS

U.S. Figure Skating has named its ice dance selections and alternates for the 2016 Four Continents Championships, World Junior Figure Skating Championships and World Figure Skating Championships.

2016 ISU WORLD FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS – MARCH 28-APRIL 2, 2016 – BOSTON

Madison Chock and Evan Bates
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
Alternate 1 – Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus
Alternate 2 – Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker
 
2016 FOUR CONTINENTS FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS – FEB. 16-21, 2016 – TAIPEI CITY, CHINESE TAIPEI

Madison Chock and Evan Bates
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
Alternate 1 – Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus
Alternate 2 – Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker

2016 WORLD JUNIOR FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS – MARCH 14-20, 2016 – DEBRECEN, HUNGARY

Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter
Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons
Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit
Alternate 1 – Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko
Alternate 2 – Julia Biechler and Damian Dodge
Alternate 3 – Chloe Rose Lewis and Logan Bye