Zach Donohue said he watched his 2018 Olympic ice dancing performance only one time after the PyeongChang Games in South Korea were over.
He and partner Madison Hubbell were in contention for a bronze medal but a series of small mistakes in the free dance portion of the competition dropped them to fourth place.
“I watched it once and went, ‘Ughh, you idiot,’” said Donohue, who was born in Hartford and grew up in Madison. “I was like, ‘All right, I never want to see this again.’”
But he added: “I move on from disappointment pretty quick, on some things. That one, it was a good solid couple of days, couple of weeks, but honestly when I went back and looked at it, we kind of already knew that we didn’t train the way we wished we had going into it.
“We knew on the day that we were holding back and tight and the nerves were there. We’d never been about to fight for a medal at the Olympics and sitting in third place, and only having a tiny point gap, we hadn’t been in that situation before and the pressure got to us.”
Donohue, who now lives in Montreal, and Hubbell will be back one more time to contend for an Olympic medal in the Beijing Games, which open Feb. 4. The ice dancing team competition will take place Feb. 4 and Feb. 7 and the individual competition on Feb. 12 and Feb. 14.
That fourth place is why they’re going back.
“Last Olympics was not a complete disappointment to us - it’s hard to complain about fourth place at your first Olympic Games,” Donohue said. “But we did feel we had left a bit on the table and that we were capable of more, so it wasn’t really a question if we were going to keep going.”
“Maddie and I are more focused, better trained, older, wiser ... Older. Older. Older. Older,” he added, laughing. “I just turned 31. We’ve gained a lot of experience and knowledge through trial and error.”
The pair, who has competed together for the last 11 years, finished second at the recent U.S. championships in Nashville, Tenn., behind Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Donohue and Hubbell, who had a career high score of 225.59, were the reigning champions.
Donohue said the pair skated as well as they could.
“There were a couple mistakes in the short [program] and we finished knowing we’d have to skate a pretty much perfect free [program],” he said. “We skated an amazing free but the lead we took in the free wasn’t enough to make up for the mistakes in the short.”
It was an emotional performance for the two, knowing it would be their last national championships.
“It’s the only time I’ve teared up after skating a program,” Donohue said.
Donohue started skating at age 11 and teamed up with Hubbell in 2011. They went on to win three national championships and finish second twice in the world championships, including in 2021, where they qualified for this year’s Olympic Games.
During the national championships, a number of competitors tested positive for COVID-19 and had to withdraw, including reigning national pairs champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier. Donohue and Hubble did not stay at the host hotel, which USA Today’s Christine Brennan reported did not require masks and many people were not wearing them in the hotel.
“It was very stressful,” Donohue said. “We were faced with the decision – ‘It’s too risky, we’re not going out,’ but at the same time, it’s our last season and we wanted to own that moment. I think we needed it, to be as prepared as possible for the Games.”
China’s COVID-19 protocol is very strict and if an athlete tests positive before they board their flight to the Olympics, they will most likely not be able to go.
So Donohue has hunkered down with his girlfriend in their apartment in Montreal and won’t be going anywhere until he gets on a plane for China.
“We’re living like hermits right now,” he said. “It’s been harder on my girlfriend than I. She’s a trooper for dealing with this stuff. We have to do all these tests, avoid people, order this, order that, don’t go out.”
Donohue’s mother still lives in Madison and his brother in Norwich. He hasn’t visited that much in the last few years due to the pandemic but plans to get back after the Olympics, when he can settle down to a more normal life.
But first, the culmination of their skating career awaits at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing.
“We are definitely gunning for the podium,” Donohue said. “It’s going to be tough. We’re shooting for the top. We’re going to compete to win, but the focus isn’t that. It’s an amazing opportunity. We want to be fully present and enjoy the work we put in because it’s our last Olympics.”
Lori Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.