2019 World Champions: Alina Zagitova, Nathan Chen, Wenjing Sui & Cong Han, Gabrielle Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron
U.S. Dance Contingent Has Eyes on Worlds Podium
by Liz Leamy
This year’s U.S. World dance contingent is as strong and promising as ever and is lead by Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, the 2018 World silver medalists and reigning U.S. titlists, Madison Chock & Evan Bates, the 2019 U.S. silver medalists and two-time World medalists (silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016) & Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who were third at the 2019 U.S. Championships.
Collectively and individually, this faction ought to make a major mark at the World Championships in Saitama this week, with each team, particularly the first two U.S. ones, holding competitive resumes that are both impressive and extensive.
At the same time, each one of these teams work with the same coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal, Quebec, which makes their bond all the more unique and special.
Hubbell, a Michigan native and Donohue, who grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, said they are very much looking forward to competing in Saitama.
“We’re feeling confident and excited to head to Japan,” said Hubbell in a pre-Worlds media teleconference call held two weeks ago. “More than ever, we’re just putting our focus on executions, precision and making sure we don’t leave any points on the table.”
Hubbell & Donohue, who are the 2018 U.S. titlists and who also placed fourth at the 2019 Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, California last February, said since that event, they have made some changes to their programs and have also re-edited the last portion of their free dance music revolving around the famous Shakespearean story ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
“We have slowly wanted to add more challenge and dimension to the program,” said Hubbell. “[The music] is something we wanted to explore for a long time [and] the last minute of the program really ends with a strong beat.”
Since Februarly, the two have also been working to make certain all of their technical elements are on point, particularly since having their stationary lift in the free dance at Four Continents not earning any levels (since they had apparently moved during that particular maneuver).
According to Hubbell & Donohue, this turn of events inspired them to focus more than ever on their technicality in the weeks leading up to Worlds, especially in regard to the lift.
After Four Continents, the duo went back to Montreal and, in tandem with their coaches, looked at the lift, analyzed it and then made the necessary changes.
“Now it’s executed with more precision,” said Donohue. “[This experience has] really helped accelerate us into a mental shift where we’re really focused on our technicality and trusting in our strength naturally.”
The two said they are also very much motivated by the whole training atmosphere in Montreal.
“There’s no doubt we [all] respect each other immensely and we’re used to that energy right now,” said Hubbell. “We had competition simulations this week and got feedback from the coaches. We all have our sites set on the next three/four years.”
Chock & Bates, the 2015 U.S. titlists who are also two-time Olympic contenders (in 2014 and 2018) said they are as geared up as ever to make a splash in Saitama.
This duo, who has been training with Dubreuil and Lauzon for nearly a year now, valiantly scored gold at the Four Continents Championships this past February, which has given them a huge confidence boost heading into Worlds this week.
“Evan and I have been training very hard for this event,” said Chock. “We’re very excited coming off our win from Four Continents and we feel like the programs have progressed to a really good place.”
“I think it all came together [this season] with the Four Continents victory,” said Bates. “I think we still have a lot of potential to fulfill.”
Chock said she especially loves the team’s free dance program this season to ‘Fever’ by Elvis Presley and Michael Buble and ‘Burning Love’ by Elvis Presley.
“It’s such a cohesive theme,” said Chock. “It’s a fun program centered around dance and the theme of love.”
This duo, meanwhile, also credited their success so far this season to their tutelage under the direction of Dubreuil and Lauzon.
“I think we’re getting a feel for their philosophy and their approach,” said Bates. “I think that learning process is what sparked our renewed passion [this season].”
Bates said the energy of the Montreal rink environment has also helped boost the team’s spirits and outlook in regard to their skating.
“[Marie and Patrice] have cultivated an atmosphere. The development of their skaters is accomplished not by a forceful nature,” said Bates. “When you’re part of that environment, it’s hard not to be inspired.”
Hawayek & Baker, meanwhile, are also excited for a memorable outing this week at Worlds.
This duo, who were the 2018 Four Continents champions, are known for their terrific technique and energy and should rack up some big points.
For the Rhythm Dance, they’ll be skating to ‘Vuelo al Sur’ and ‘A Los Amigos’ by Juan Carlos Caceres and for their free dance, the two will interpret the ‘Trampoline Theme’ and ‘In This Shirt’ by the Irrepressibles.
As mentioned earlier, Hawayek & Baker also train in Montreal with Dubreuil and Lauzon.
Tennell and Bell Seek to Prove Themselves at World Championships
by Liz Leamy
Bradie Tennell, the 2019 U.S. silver medalist and 2018 U.S. titlist and Mariah Bell, the 2019 and 2017 U.S. bronze medalist, are primed to compete in Saitama, Japan at the 2019 World Championships this week. Tennell, a Chicago area native and Bell, who hails from Westminster, Colorado, will skate the ladies short program on Wednesday.
Tennell and Bell will face off against prominent World contenders such as Russian Alina Zagitova, the 2018 Olympic Champion, Russian Evgenia Medvedeva, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist and Kaori Sakamoto, the 2019 Japanese titlist, among others.
Tennell, who catapulted to the forefront of the sport in November 2017 when she scored bronze at the International Skating Union Skate America Championships in Lake Placid and then scored the U.S. title two months later in January 2018, said she wants to put out two first-rate programs this week.
In a pre-Worlds media teleconference call held a week ago, Tennell said she was fired up to compete in Saitama.
“I’m excited to go out there and show the world what I can do,” said the 21 year-old Carpentersville, Illinois native. “I think it’s going to be a super fun time and I’m really excited to go.”
Tennell, who coaches a handful of students in and around the Chicago area, said that in leading up to Worlds, her training has been going well.
“Training’s been going really well,” said Tennell, who is coached by Denise Myers and Jeremy Allen. “I want to go out there and skate my programs. As long as I do my job, I don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Bell, meanwhile, who trains in Irvine, California with Rafael Arutyunyan (coach of Nathan Chen, the 2018 World champion, among others), is also laser focused on making her mark in Saitama.
Bell, known for her incredible speed, strength and flow, said she is thrilled about skating in Worlds.
“Training’s been going awesome and I’m really looking forward to next week,” said Bell in a media teleconference call last week. “It’s about believing in myself and believing in what I do.”
Bell also talked about Arutyunyan’s effect on her as a coach.
“[Rafael] is definitely very special and he’s not for the faint of heart,” said Bell. “He truly cares for his athletes and wants the best for us. He’ll do what he needs to do to get it out of us.”
Bell said that she has also enjoyed working with Shae-Lynn Bourne (the former Canadian World champion ice dancer with Victor Kraatz) as one of her choreographers this season, citing the long program (to Ludovico Einaudi’s ‘Divinire’) that was created for her by this renowned former top world dance contender as a personal favorite.
“The long program [Shae-Lynn] created for me is one of my most favorite long programs,” said Bell. “I’m telling a story and the skating is more advanced than what I had done [in the past]. It’s also very exciting and I’m very proud of the work I’ve done to make it what it is.”
U.S. Men Looking to Make Mark at Worlds
by Liz Leamy
The U.S. men’s contingent is set to make their mark at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships this week, to be held in Saitama, Japan Wednesday, March 20th through Sunday, March 24th at the Saitama Super Arena.
This event, which is taking place in this bustling Japanese urban locale located nearly an hour northwest of Tokyo (and considered to be part of the Greater Tokyo Area) is the culmination of the season for the sport’s top men’s and ladies’ singles, pairs and dance contenders, all of who are vying for a top position and to establish themselves as top-seed contenders leading up the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
Leading this season’s U.S. World men’s contingent is Nathan Chen, the 2018 World champion and Yale University freshman who claimed his third consecutive U.S. title last January in Detroit with a superb back-to-back series of short and long programs.
Chen, who trains at various rinks in the New Haven and Cromwell, Connecticut area, near his academic home base of Yale said he is looking forward to this event.
“I’ve been training really well for Worlds and I’m really excited,” said Chen in a pre-Worlds media teleconference call from Yale last Friday. “I’m looking forward to this competition.”
Chen, who is also a two-time International Skating Union Grand Prix Final champion (in 2017 and 2018), said his primary goal is to keep improving from competition to competition, something he certainly seems to be achieving based upon his tremendous performance level and results over the last several years.
“That’s always my goal every season,” said Chen, who said flew to Japan from Connecticut last Saturday (March 16th). “[So far], I’m really happy about [the progression].”
Certainly, Chen seems to be accomplishing this task in every way, shape and form, as over the past number of seasons he has helped set a whole new technical bar with his extensive library of quads, including a Salchow, toe loop, flip and Lutz, which he executes regularly in his programs and which has catapulted him to the pinnacle of the sport.
At Worlds this week, Chen plans to skate the same short and long programs that he did at Nationals in January.
Meanwhile, in regard to the ‘big’ picture, Chen seems to be laser focused on building toward being in optimal position for the 2022 Olympics and is doing everything possible to make the most of his journey as he continues working toward that goal.
The Salt Lake City native, who works with Rafael Arutyunyan via Facetime from California while training almost daily in Connecticut, said he is happy in regard to where everything stands right now.
Chen has been taking courses on such subjects as math, abnormal psychology and music at Yale, which he said he really enjoys and seems to have adjusted quite well to his new life of training and college academia.
“Definitely what I’ve been doing has been the right move,” said Chen, who will be turning 20 on May 5th. “As of now I’m happy with everything.”
Vincent Zhou, the talented 18 year-old San Jose, California native who clinched silver at the 2019 U.S. Nationals, also seems geared up to have a memorable outing in Japan this week.
This amiable and strong athlete, who trains with Tammy Gambill, Christy Krall and Tom Zakrajsek in California and Colorado, is the 2017 U.S. silver and 2018 U.S. bronze medalist and is the first skater to have ever landed a quad Lutz at the Olympics (in 2018, where he finished sixth), designating him as a serious prospect for the World Championship leaderboard.
Zhou, who clinched bronze at the 2019 Four Continents Championships last February, said he has been working hard and making progress since then.
“Since Four Continents, I’ve been making good progress,” said Zhou. “I’m trying to bring everything together and get some effortless flow throughout the program so everything looks like it flows better.”
According to Zhou, who, like Chen, has rightfully earned the reputation as a global technical ace, the most important thing about maintaining good flow and condition is to effectively manage training on a daily basis.
Zhou added that once he gets a good repetition [of a jump or his programs] down, he leaves it “at just that.”
Finally, he said he makes sure to get adequate rest and nourishment in order to be at optimal pace for training and competing.
“I make sure I utilize my day off to get some good rest,” said Zhou. “I [also] eat three meals a day.”
“It’s an honor to be competing in such a deep field,” said Zhou. “I have such a high level of respect for [all of] these guys competing.”
Jason Brown, the 24 year-old Highland Park, Illinois native who is the 2019 U.S. bronze medalist and 2015 U.S. champion, also appears poised to make a lasting mark in Saitama.
Brown, who trains in Toronto with Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, said he is excited as ever to compete at Worlds.
“I’m really excited to go to Worlds and make my mark in Japan,” said Brown. “I’m so excited to have another opportunity to get out there and learn.”
Brown, who has a total of four U.S. Championship (senior) medals (he was second at the 2014 Nationals and third at the 2017 Nationals), said he has been focused on building a super-strong base this past year.
Last spring, he began training with Orser and Wilson in Canada after having spent many successful years with Kori Ade, with whom he had worked with in the Chicago area and Monument, Colorado, respectively, prior to moving to Toronto.
Brown said his primary goal at Worlds is to just skate his best.
“I would love to make my mark and get two personal best [scores].”