A Career Moment: Chen, Hubbell and Donohue Make It Right at Worlds

By Troy Schwindt and Lynn Rutherford

may covers combined

A dose of redemption.

That’s what Nathan Chen and the ice dance team of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue earned with exceptional performances at the 108th edition of the World Figure Skating Championships, March 21–25, in Milan, Italy.

Only a month removed from a bitterly disappointing Olympics, Chen crushed the competition with a six-quad free skate that helped to clinch the gold medal. Hubbell and Donohue, who watched their Olympic bronze medal dreams evaporate in the waning seconds of their free dance, secured the silver medal at the renowned Mediolanum Forum.

“I’m so happy about this, especially after not having the greatest skates at the Olympics and then being able to come not long after and do what I did here,” Chen, 18, said. “I think I learned a lot from the Olympics and it helped me here.”

In PyeongChang, Chen, a medal favorite, started badly with a short program that landed him 17th. He regrouped to easily win the free skate and finish fifth overall.

Chen, the winner of the short program in Milan, said he’d been training six quads and that with his Olympic experience —  he attempted six and cleanly landed five quads in his free skate — he knew that type of performance was again possible at Worlds.

Photo by Joosep Martinson - ISU/ISU via Getty Images

Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images

“It was risky and I knew the other guys hadn’t skated as clean as they could have, and doing five quads would have been less risky, but I didn’t have anything to lose and wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” said Chen, who performed to music from the Mao’s Last Dancer soundtrack.

Landing his opening quad Lutz, he said, set the tone for the rest of the performance.

“I put a lot of emphasis on that first Lutz,” Chen, the two-time and reigning U.S. champion, said.

Chen reeled off a quad Lutz, quad flip-double toe, quad flip, quad toe and a quad toe-triple toe as well as a triple Axel and triple flip-single loop-triple Salchow combination. The only glitch came when he stepped out of his sixth quadruple jump, a Salchow.

He earned personal-best scores of 219.46 for his free skate and 321.40 overall to win his first Worlds medal, securing the title by nearly 48 points. He’s the first U.S. man to be World champion since Evan Lysacek accomplished the feat in 2009.

“It’s just a dream come true, it’s something I have wanted to achieve my whole career and I’m just so glad I was able to do it,” Chen said.

Chen went undefeated in the Grand Prix season, won his second consecutive U.S. title in January and won the bronze medal in the Team Event at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

His teammate, Vincent Zhou, 17, started strong by placing third in the short program, but hit a wall in a mistake-riddled free skate to finish 19th in the segment and 14th overall with 235.24 points.

“This week has been extremely difficult for me,” Zhou, who placed sixth at the Olympics, said. “Two days before I left for Worlds, I started having back pain and I was struggling with that this week. My practices have been horrible, but I was able to do well in the short program, because I have a great medical team here working on me. I’m not using my back as an excuse but I haven’t had the proper muscle memory this week. The last time I skated a clean long was before I left. It’s no excuse. I think I was just tired. I think I should have taken yesterday to rest a little more, but it’s my first Worlds and my first international season as a senior. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished this season.”

Max Aaron, a substitute for Adam Rippon, rallied to finish 11th overall with a score of 241.49.

“I’m just so happy to be here and help support Team USA,” Aaron said. “I’m happy I got to do my job to the best of my ability and just help support Nathan and Vincent.”

The 2018 Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan pulled up from fifth place to repeat as World silver medalist and Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada claimed the bronze.

Read the rest of the 2018 World Championships coverage in the cover story of the May 2018 issue of SKATING magazine.