Ice Network

Denney, Coughlin gradually rounding into form

American pair grateful to be back competing for Olympic spot
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Caydee Denney and John Coughlin perform their short program during Day Two of Skate America in October. -Getty Images

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin landed in Paris for their first time on Tuesday for the 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard. Thursday morning they took the ice for their first official practice in the main arena and were kind enough to spend some time with icenetwork just moments afterward.

Icenetwork: You seem to be so enthusiastic when you are on the ice!

Coughlin: Actually we are so grateful to be back on the ice this year, after the injury we sustained last year. Usually you tend to take what you have for granted. When something has been taken away from you for a while, then you understand that nothing is to be taken for granted at all. So I suppose that it does reflect in our skating.

Caydee and I really enjoy skating together, both in practice and at competitions. We want to give back as much as possible of what skating gives us and let people join in our joy. Every team has its own character on the ice. For us, I suppose that our character is the passion we have for skating.

Icenetwork: Your long program to Phantom of the Opera is so dramatic. Is drama something you want to emphasize?

Denney: Phantom is such a big production. We really want to skate up to that music. We have grown so much through this program. It goes back to being grateful. We have been able to keep our program from last season, as we were not able to skate it last year. So hopefully we will keep that same enthusiasm throughout the season, up to the Olympics.

Coughlin: We did that program until we were injured last year. Since then we have had a lot of influence to making it fresh. Then it came to (their coach) Dalilah Sappenfield, Caydee and I to make it what we wanted it to be. Each time we compete, we tell her how we feel and she tells us what she thinks and how the judges reacted. So we have made this program grow together, and we have grown together with it.

Icenetwork: Are you saying that competing in front an audience gives you the most feedback?

Coughlin: We do enjoy having a crowd when we skate. We draw from their energy, and then they draw from the energy we are giving back to them. Even when we practice, let's say, after a hockey team has practiced, we try to grab their attention so that we can have a reflection of our programs from them.

It is just like every skater, I suppose. We train so hard to succeed on the big stage. The goal is to skate with people watching. When we give them what they like and want, they will give us what we want and need.

Denney: At the end of August, we had our U.S. Figure Skating summer camp in Colorado Springs. Scott Hamilton was the speaker. He told us that when he was skating, what he loved most was the standing ovation he received. I really feel the same way. Figure skating is a sport and we like to compete, but we like to do so for the standing ovation we may get at the end. We do love to perform.

Coughlin: Also, we have learned to consider the judges as a part of the audience. We try to treat them as if they were the regular audience who've come here to see a good performance.

Denney: A most important part of the audience! (laughs) They just get the best seats!

Icenetwork: Is your short program as dramatic as you free program?

Coughlin: Oh yes, it is so dramatic! We skate to Tosca.

Denney: You know, we came one day early to Paris. As soon as we arrived, we came to the main arena. The ice was still a swimming pool, but the projectors were all lit up and there we were in this huge coliseum. Then I saw the 15,000 red seats of the arena all around the ice. You know, red is the color of Tosca throughout the opera. So this arena is set for Tosca! I'm so excited! It's going to be a lot of fun!

Icenetwork: Your programs manage to provide a unique blend of drama and comedy. How do you manage to match your personalities in such a way?

Coughlin: We like to be dramatic in our most dynamic and bigger tricks, like the throws and the lifts. Our style is there. And yet our joy does shine, too, as we love what we do so much. If the audience can tell you're enjoying it, then they will enjoy it as much.

We worked on character a lot last season. We were not allowed to go full speed, so maybe that was the best thing we could do!

Icenetwork: Your lifts are just incredible. How do you work on them?

Coughlin: Well, we work on our lifts on land and then we transfer them to the ice. I have to say that it's much better for a team like us to have a bigger ice surface, because we can really separate ourselves from other teams. The rules do limit the number of turns we are allowed to do on one lift, but we have no limits on their duration.

Denney: You know what? As we were practicing we saw a couple of pigeons flying in the arena. We talked about it afterward. We said: "Whoa! Maybe I could catch one!" (both laugh)

Icenetwork: How did you work on them?

Denney: When you create a program, you always have a lot of alternatives. We started looking for what would suit best our programs and what we wanted to tell. Even after you feel that "this is it," there are still many things that will keep evolving.

Coughlin: Actually, our federation is very vocal about what their preferences are. This year, they told us that they like our Phantom program so much, that they wanted us to prepare a short program that would be up to par with it. Fortunately, they said it to us in June, so we had quite some time to take a new direction. That's how we picked Tosca, actually.

We brought a lot of new content this year. Dalilah gave us four new lifts, and we worked a lot to increase the level of our death spiral.

Denney: This is what you have to do on an Olympic year -- give as much as possible.

Icenetwork: What do you intend to do with the rest of your day?

Denney: Yesterday we could go to the Eiffel Tower. The Tower is so much bigger than you can imagine, it's incredible!

Today we would love to go to Notre Dame. You know, my sister (Haven) and Brandon's program is set to Esmeralda and the hunchback of Notre Dame. So I want to get there and take as many pictures as I can to send her! Also, I heard you could get in and light a candle in the cathedral?

Coughlin: It's always a bit frustrating when you travel to such cities as Paris. You try to soak in as much as you can, but still you can't walk too much and wear yourself out. I suppose we will have to come back for leisure one day!

Denney and Coughlin might be one of the main candles shining on the ice of Paris this weekend.