DETROIT – The Winter Olympics are just weeks away and Detroit has long been the center of American figure skating.
While much of the training has shifted to Montreal recently, there are still some strong Michigan connections. There are two veteran pairs hoping for a return to Olympic engagement.
Of all of the things that can happen at an Olympiad, of all the possible results -- after four years of training and dreaming -- some would suggest a fourth place finish is the toughest. Fourth is so impressive, and yet, it’s one step off the podium.
“The last game we had factors that were either distractions or disappointments,” said Team USA ice dancer Zach Donohue. “We were, you know, in a very different mentality than we’re in now, and I think our headspace is a lot healthier.”
Healthier is an interesting word to use amid the global pandemic, which has left skaters knowing that just about any event can be canceled at a moment’s notice. The team of Hubbell and Donohue know that this is their last go-round.
After more than a decade of twirling around the ice together, 2022 marks the end of a long, beautiful dance.
All of that experience has led to an important revelation. It is not the medals or the titles that they will miss. It’s the moment when it all comes together on a thin sheet of ice.
“You know, in a high-pressure year it’s really easy to get wrapped up in, you know, our goals and wanting to be on the Olympic podium,” said Team USA ice dancer Madison Hubbell. “We carry that drive with us every day, but when it comes time to perform, those are the special minutes that we can’t get back.”
They don’t have to look far down the ice to find their Chief American rivals.
While Hubbell and Donohue are the reigning U.S. champions, Madison Chock and Evan Bates are vying to become the first American ice dance team to qualify for three Olympiads.
A couple, on and off the ice, they too feel better than ever.
“Completely different than who we were four years ago,” said Chock. “Going into the games, our mindset is different. We’re definitely the strongest that we’ve ever been mentally, physically, and together as a couple.”
Bates may make history on two fronts.
After first qualifying with Emily Samuelson, he is trying to become the first American skater in any discipline to appear in four Olympic games.
But even for him, things feel very new at the moment.
“Last week in Finland, we had an audience, and it was just like, so fun to skate for a live audience again,” said Bates. “We’re going to be at skate America this week with a live audience, and gosh, I just feel very grateful for what we’ve got.”
American athletes are going to face a ton of questions about the setting for the Beijing games. Human rights activists have asked the U.S. to boycott a Chinese Olympiad.
Bates believes human rights concerns get a better hearing if the athletes are there.
“I think to boycott the games would be to not take the opportunity to shed light on this topic,” said Bates. “We are here, and we will feel the question. From speaking about how important it is to come together and to represent the Olympic movement which is all about togetherness and humanity.”
Both ice dance teams have ties to Michigan. Hubbell is from Lansing and Bates is from Ann Arbor. Both teams trained in Metro Detroit before moving to Montreal to train there.