NASHVILLE, Tenn. — They’ve been neck-and-neck for nearly a decade, so why would this time be any different?
In the latest chapter of their longstanding rivalry, the ice dance teams of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates once came down to the wire at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. And this time, it was Chock and Bates who squeaked out on top.
Buoyed by their strong rhythm dance, Chock and Bates held on to claim their third national title Saturday, beating Hubbell and Donohue by just 1.78 points. It’s the fourth consecutive national championships in which the two teams finished first and second.
Both teams are considered shoe-ins for the U.S. Olympic team — and possible medal contenders. It will be the third Olympic appearance for Chock and Bates and the second for Hubbell and Donohue, who have said this will be their final season of competition.
With their third-place finish, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker now have the inside track on the final Olympic spot in the event. The full Olympic figure skating team will be finalized Sunday.
Chock and Bates finished second to Hubbell and Donohue in the free skate portion of the competition with a program that has a robotic, otherworldly quality to it. But the cushion they built in the rhythm dance earlier this week, with their Billie Eilish program, proved to be enough to win.
Two-time world medalists, Chock and Bates have competed together for more than a decade and been in a romantic relationship for more than five years. Chock said in 2018 that their off-ice romance had improved their on-ice performance.
“We are more in tune with each other,” she said. “We have the ability to go home and discuss skating further and bounce ideas off each other, whereas we would just go our separate ways after practice. Now, we are even more invested in our skating than ever before. Because we have the same goals. We are on the same page and know what we want. To do that, we have to work together.”
Cain-Gribble, LeDuc win pairs
In a moment they said they had long visualized, Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc used a well-executed free skate program to win their second national title in the pairs event, posting an overall score of 225.23.
“We prepared beyond what we thought possible,” Cain-Gribble said. “And at times, it could feel really isolating, because honestly you felt a little bit crazy. But at the end of the day, it’s a beautiful process and we were able to look back and say that we couldn’t have done anything more.”
With just two pairs spots available on Team USA, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier are expected to qualify based on their body of work, even though they did not compete this week. Frazier tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Cain-Gribble and LeDuc are expected to earn the other spot, with LeDuc believed to be the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.
“We’ve always been here. We’ve always been a part of sports. We just haven’t always been able to be open,” said LeDuc, whose pronouns are they/them. “I know that me being here and being able to be out now is only possible because of the many, many brave people that have come before me.”