Ice Network

Final Slices: Coughlin debuts in broadcast booth

Two-time U.S. pairs champion seeks advice from TV veteran Hamilton
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John Coughlin has taken up broadcasting while he and Caydee Denney sit out this competitive season. -Jay Adeff

At previous Skate Americas, when John Coughlin considered balancing points, he was usually contemplating the right second to change a hand hold in one of his and Caydee Denney's intricate lifts.

In Hoffman Estates, Illinois, last week, it was about balancing when to talk -- and when to keep quiet. Coughlin's first turn as icenetwork's color commentator came during 2014 Skate America's pairs event. The two-time U.S. pairs champion joined a team that included three-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss (men's event).

"I want to deliver the technical knowledge in a way people can understand and quantify -- if they haven't been a pair skater themselves -- but I also don't want to interrupt a special moment," Coughlin said.

"You're kind of reading the energy of the crowd and the energy of the skaters to strike that balance and say, 'OK, this is the skaters' moment, their time to shine -- let it speak for itself.'"

Since Coughlin and Denney are not competing this season, commentating fit into the two-time U.S. pairs champion's schedule. He discussed his aspirations with long-time NBC commentator Scott Hamilton at U.S. Figure Skating's Governing Council in Colorado Springs last year.

"Scott is someone I admire greatly, in the way he delivers his message," Coughlin said. "I told him at some point I wanted to give it a try. Scott, being the incredibly generous person that he is, we sat down and he let me pick his brain about it. I reached out to him a couple of times this year and I will continue to do that."

Coughlin provided much of his education on technical elements during the event's replays. One example: The majority of the pairs at Skate America gained Level 4 on this season's required forward inside death spirals (FIDS), including all three U.S. teams competing. That has not always been the case.

"With the forward inside, the man can lift and support the lady more easily than in a backward death spiral," he said. "Things like death spirals and spins shouldn't be as risk-oriented as a throw or a jump. But they add up, not just in levels but in Grades of Execution (GOE)."

Now that Coughlin has his first commentating gig under his belt, he plans to ask Hamilton for a performance critique.

"I'm going to send him some tape to listen to," he said. "I got this opportunity just kind of last minute, so didn't have a lot of time to do film study. I'm hoping to reach out to some of my friends in the industry and see if they can give me some feedback."

Downgrades, under-rotations, edge calls -- "It's a girl thing"

Sometimes, sitting near the Swiss Timing monitor is the best seat in the house. That's where skaters' element levels and judges' GOEs are first displayed. Candid reactions, from everyone from opposing coaches to ISU officials, are on full display.

After eventual Skate America champion Elena Radionova's free skate scores popped up Sunday, a well-known coach came over to inspect the judges' marks.

"No edge call on the (triple) flip," he sniffed. "That's interesting."

Skaters generally inspect their protocols before heading to the mixed zone to face reporters, some of whom understand the scoring system. Mirai Nagasu skated a strong, expressive free to Madame Butterfly, but she answered the first question before it was asked.

"I know I under-rotated a lot of those jumps out there today," she said of her score, which included five carrots ("<").

A single carrot means a jump is missing between a quarter-turn and a half-turn rotation. (Nagasu did not receive a downgrade, or double carrot, which indicates a triple jump is a half-turn short and considered only a double.)

Up until about 10 years ago, skaters didn't worry much if a jump was a quarter-turn short, as long as it was landed cleanly. But once the International Judging System (IJS) got into full swing, and technical panels began reviewing landings, carrots became a primary ingredient of the scoring stew.

"I think with all girls, judges check most of the jumps, especially mine," Nagasu, 21, said. "I was raised in the mentality of the 6.0 (judging system), so I always try to land my jumps, instead of going for clean (rotations) but falls. I guess that is a plus and a minus. ... Even the top skaters, like Mao Asada, they all get carrots. I think it's a girl thing."

Samantha Cesario opened her Carmen free skate at Skate America with a lovely triple loop-loop-triple Salchow, but the Salchow was judged under-rotated. Cesario, who finished fourth at Skate America, acknowledged she had completed better triple-triple sequences in practice, but she also thought some skaters have their jumps inspected more closely than others.

"If you do [under-rotate] more than once or twice, they tend to know you are on the ice and they are going to look for it from you," Cesario, 21, said. "Somebody who never really does it, when they do [under-rotate] they might get away with it. Bottom line: You have got to be really clean or they are going to look at it."

Nagasu placed sixth at Skate America after recovering well from a 10th-place short program. She and her coach, Tom Zakrajsek, have taken firm aim at improving her jump consistency; Zakrajsek, one of the sport's most noted jump technicians, has designed exercises and drills for Nagasu and his other skaters, including 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron.

"A lot of boys tell me I can land my triple Axel half a turn, cheated on one foot. It's something even Max admires, and I guess it's kind of cool," Nagasu said. "But, I guess it would be better if I were a boy, because then I wouldn't cheat my jumps."

Gauthier high on Castelli, Tran

Richard Gauthier coached Canadian junior champions Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps to a sixth-place finish at Skate America. He, along with Bruno Marcotte, trains U.S. pairs champion Marissa Castelli and her new partner, Mervin Tran, in Montreal. Castelli and Tran also visit Boston to work with Bobby Martin's group.

The skaters announced their partnership in June but will not compete internationally this season, since the Canadian Tran must sit out at least one season before switching countries. Tran competed with Narumi Takahashi for Japan from 2007-13, winning the 2012 World Championships bronze medal. He and Natasha Purich were fourth in Canada last season and placed fifth at the 2014 Four Continents Championships.

Castelli and Tran, both 24 years old, plan to compete at Eastern sectionals, and then at the 2015 U.S. Championships.

"It's coming along quite fast, faster than I expected, actually," Gauthier said. "Even if both skaters have pair experience, if you put a team together, usually it takes three years before they [gel]. But the timing of this pair is very fast. Within a year they should be up there with the rest of the top group."

Gauthier thinks it's because Castelli, who is five feet tall, is a good match physically with the 5'9" Tran.

"When Mervin skated with Narumi or Natasha, they both looked like little girls," Gauthier said. "Marissa looks like a woman. They look like a mature couple. They both have good skating skills, and it shows. They also get along well, which is a great plus."

"They are doing quite a large triple twist, two triple throws, and triple toes and triple Salchows," he continued. "Of course, Mervin always had great lifts, and Marissa has great flexibility, so their lifts are as good as Mervin's were with Narumi."