While plenty of Olympic figure skaters are leaving the door open as to what comes next in their careers, Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are certain: They've skated their last dance on competitive ice.
The ice dance duo announced prior to the 2021-22 season - including the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 - would be their last.
"Our connection isn't something that you get every day," Donohue, 31 said after they finished with a silver medal at the World Figure Skating Championships in Montpellier, France on Saturday (26 March).
He continued: "And that's something that I already miss now that we're done. We've shared 11 amazing, tumultuous years together."
The silver marked a season full of hardware for Hubbell and Donohue: They won bronze in Beijing last month having finished fourth during PyeongChang 2018, while also making the podium twice at Grand Prix events (including winning Skate America) and coming in second at the U.S. Championships.
The team had made their debut at Worlds in 2012, when the competition was also held in France - in Nice.
This past week, they finished behind their French training mates Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, while U.S. teammates Madison Chock and Evan Bates - who also train at the Ice Academy of Montreal - won the bronze.
"Going into today, the emotions were really high," Hubbell, also 31, shared after the free dance. "I was crying this morning on practice ice realising that this one aspect of our life was coming to a close. We also knew coming onto the ice that no matter what happened, it was going to be a perfect ending because we were just excited to spend those last four minutes together - with the public, our family... That took some of the pressure of the performance off and allowed us to just skate with freedom and love. The result is obviously exciting, too."
Hubbell and Donohue will participate in the U.S. Stars on Ice tour later this year, while Hubbell was planning on staying in Europe for several weeks after Worlds to do wedding planning with her fiancé, fellow ice dancer Adrian Diaz of Spain.
Hubbell/ Donohue: Duo helped shape ice dance in last decade
Known for their power, speed, expression and confident skating, Hubbell and Donohue's programs have been must-watch for ice dance fans for the better part of the last decade. They won their first U.S. title ahead of the 2018 Olympics, only to falter on one of their final elements of the free dance at the Olympics and finish fourth.
They moved to Montreal to work with Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, Romain Haguenauer and team after the 2014-15 season, and were later joined by their American counterparts in Chock/Bates, as well as Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker.
They won three U.S. titles overall (2018, 2019 and 2021) and were six-time champions on the Grand Prix circuit. They won the 2018 Grand Prix Final, while also capturing Four Continents in 2014.
Hubbell said they had "no regrets" in the path they had taken.
"I don't think if I had the chance to go back and tell myself that I would say anything," she said when asked what she would tell her younger self. "I think everything I've lived has been for a reason and I've learned lessons through all of it. So I believe that I had to go through every single moment to be the person I am today, and I have no regrets."
"I don't believe in living a life full of regret," added Donohue, who said he only wished he had been able to "take in" more experiences. "As I'm sitting here looking at all of my friends and teammates, all of you, our coaches. It really sinks in just the things you're going to miss, not being on the competitive aspect. And we've forged so many amazing friendships, relationships, connections that I'm very appreciative of."
He continued, addressing their final performance: "I wanted to be the best possible partner for Madi in this moment. I was trying to be fully conscious and aware of every single moment. That's what I felt from her today."
Hubbel and Donohue: Future plans
Donohue has plans to go into coaching, and Hubbell has discussed the same with Diaz, though there are no immediate plans in that realm. Each of the athletes appreciated in particular their time in Montreal, which this season was documented in the Olympic Channel original series, On Edge.
"Beyond just being 1-2-3 on the [Worlds] podium, we're walking away with a friendship that I think is very unique in the sport," Hubbell said of the Ice Academy contingent. "And our coaches have led the way in in many respects when it comes to art and creation and and transforming the sport in many ways."
Hubbell's mindset going into their final competitive dance on ice?
"I wasn't going to search for the emotion of it being my last time and instead [I wanted to] celebrate what I've been able to become over the last twenty two years," she said. "So, you know, I couldn't be happier with what we did on the ice."