It can be difficult to work alongside an ex. Now instead of work, add in competing for an Olympic gold medal with an ex, and on top of that make it one of the most intimate events there is.
Sound impossible? Not for Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. In fact, they thrive on it.
The figure skating pair for Team USA has been skating together for more than a decade — and have seen their relationship evolve a great deal along the way.
"It's been definitely eventful. We went from the classic getting on each other's nerves, to kind of liking each other, to dating, breaking up, to continuing to skate together, and eventually ending up at a more peaceful friendship," said Hubbell.
She said her and Donohue's relationship has "been a journey, for sure." He agreed, and then some.
"It has been exhausting," Donohue replied with a chuckle. "No. Yes, but no."
Whatever the formula, it has produced undeniable results. The couple — er, skating duo — had the highest score in the rhythm dance portion of the team skate competition, helping Team USA to a second place finish.
"When we get out on the ice, everything just sems to kind of click," said Hubbell. "We have a little bit of a more palpable connection when we go out to compete. We really are living it together, in that moment."
For Donohue, he said skating with Hubbell is nothing like being with a former partner.
"People always ask how it is to skate with your ex. I'm like, 'She's not my ex, we're family,'" he said. "We've had our tiffs, but we've actually really been there for each other, in a very close, personal way."
Perhaps one reason they've been able to continue to thrive on the ice is because their coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, are somewhat familiar with what skating with a romantic partner is like: The two former figure skating partners are now married.
"Maddy and Zach, they're raw and they're very believable. They remain a very powerful couple on the ice, except they know how to push each other's buttons really well," said Dubreuil. "On the flipside, nobody knows better how to make Maddy feel good, and nobody knows better how to make Zach feel confident and strong."
Lauzon agreed, saying that through their movements together on the ice, the pair can make the audience believe they are a couple.
"Their connection is so amazing. It draws everybody in, it feel like you're watching a real couple on the ice," he said.
Hubbell believes that connection gives their performances something special.
"I think it's what makes it unique and quite beautiful for the audience," she said.
"We have a true intimacy based on communication and learning each other and giving space and grace to each other," said Donohue. "Stepping on to Olympic ice isn't the moment to try and make something happen. It's the moment to enjoy the fruit of all the labor we've put out there, and to appreciate each other. "
Hubbell and Donohue will return to the ice 6 a.m. Saturday for the rhythm dance portion of the ice dancing competition. Coming into the Olympics, they had one of the highest scores of all pairs thus far this season for their rhythm dance.
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