The U.S. Pairs are finally getting somewhere. After many years of having a dismal showing at the National Championships, this year there were several noteworthy and inspired performances that could provide the framework of a budding rivalry in the next several years.
Reigning champions Keauna McLaughlin (Los Angeles FSC) and Rockne Brubaker (Broadmoor SC) rebounded from a shaky short program to win their second consecutive title over a promising new team that should challenge them for years to come.
“I think we owe part of (the title) to our competitors,” said a gracious Brubaker. “I don’t think that we could have done it if we didn’t have such worthy opponents.”
The champions’ West Side Story routine was not without its share of issues, however. After opening with their trademark triple twist lift, Brubaker singled the back half of a triple Salchow-double toe loop combination. Two elements later, McLaughlin took her turn, and fell on a triple toe loop.
“This is the hardest competition that we have ever done,” said an exhausted Brubaker. “All week everyone has been telling me that you can win five titles in a row, but the second one is always the hardest. To defend a title for the first time adds a lot of pressure, and on top of that, [Keauna] has had the flu all week.”
Still, McLaughlin (16) and Brubaker (22) gave a polished and otherwise technically strong program to repeat as champions – the first time that has happened since Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman did it back in 2001-02.
“Winning this title was so hard for us,” McLaughlin admitted. “There were times during the program when I thought that I couldn’t do it. I wanted to stop or take a breather, or have a trash can to cough in to. I don’t know how I did it, but I got through it, and I am really happy that it’s over with.”
McLaughlin and Brubaker won the freeskate by a little less than three points with a total of 117.64 points, and finished the competition with 178.76 points.
Leading after the short program, newcomers Caydee Denney (Southwest Florida FSC) and Jeremy Barrett (Southwest Florida FSC) took to the ice as an unknown entity. Their competitive nerves untested, the young team performed with the hearts of a champion, and clinched the silver medals after skating with each other for just a few short months.
“We wanted to make sure when we were out there that we took one element at a time,” Barrett said. “That is the way we train every day. We made sure that we didn’t get too far ahead of ourselves, and we fought for every element.”
Like the champions, Denney (15) and Barrett (24) opened with an impressive triple twist lift, followed up with an easy triple toe loop-double toe loop sequence. As their program to Spartacus wore on, the audience support grew in appreciation of the technical ability that Denney and Barrett were showcasing. As the only clean performers of the night, the silver medalists earned 114.76 points in the free skate, and their total of 176.27 points put them on their first World Championships team.
“Being in second and going to Worlds, I don’t think that it has sunk in yet,” said Denney. “I had fun out there, and this is just a bonus to skating two clean programs.”
Finishing third was the veteran team of Rena Inoue (All Year FSC) and John Baldwin (All Year FSC), earning the bronze medal. This is the seventh straight podium finish for the Olympians, but they were not disappointed with the final results. Instead, they were disappointed in their performance.
“For Rena and I, tonight was a satisfactory performance,” Baldwin said. “It wasn’t a memorable performance. I lost a little steam after what I did on the triple toe. It’s always hard when you miss something at the beginning of your program to keep the momentum going. But I think that our lifts and our throws were well done.”
In third place after the short program, Inoue (32) and Baldwin (35) made mistakes early, with Baldwin underrotating and stepping out of the first element – the triple toe loop. The engaged couple then crashed into each other on the landing of their triple twist lift before Baldwin again stepped out of a double Axel combination.
“I am very satisfied with the outcome,” admitted Baldwin. “I think that the best two teams are going to the World Championships, and I think that they will represent the U.S. very well.”
The former national champions earned 109.97 points in their freeskate, and 171.08 points overall for third place, their lowest finish since 2003.
With an emotional and inspired performance, Amanda Evora (Southwest Florida FSC) and Mark Ladwig (Red River Valley FSC) moved up to fourth place overall skating to Tchaikovsky’s Pas de Deux.
“It just felt so good to skate how we know we can skate in front of everybody,” said an elated Evora (24), as tears streamed down her cheeks. “We’ve been together for seven years, and everyone has always wanted us to do a good program and see us do well. To finally have done that in front of this audience meant so much to me. Dreams come true. It doesn’t matter what place you get, otherwise none of us would be chasing for that moment.”
“It puts a smile on my face when we skate like this,” admitted 28-year-old Ladwig. “And it makes it so much easier when I know that she is enjoying it, and knowing that somebody loves doing it as much as you.”
The pewter medalists earned a personal best score of 106.97 in the free skate, and also increased their competition personal best to 159.95 points.
Finishing in fifth place with another disappointing performance, were the 2007 Champions Brooke Castile (Arctic FSC) and Benjamin Okolski (Arctic FSC). The former champions presented a beautiful picture on the ice, but seemed resigned to making the same mistakes in the freeskate.
“I just feel like I need more time to get my legs where they need to be to have that competitive edge,” said a disappointed Castile. “We need more experience competing at the big events. Because we haven’t competed so much, I feel like our skating has gotten a lot better, but we just need that experience so that we can draw from it in our performances.”
A score of 102.55 points placed Castile (22) and Okolski (24) sixth in the freeskate, but their competition total of 157.01 points kept them in fifth place over Chloe Katz (SC of New York) and Joseph Lynch (SC of New York), who placed sixth.
After a difficult freeskate, Caitlin Yankowskas (Colonial FSC) and John Coughlin (Kansas City FSC) fell from fourth place after the short program to seven