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First medals handed out at NHK Trophy

Brubaker, McLaughlin make Grand Prix Final

Rockne Brubaker and Keauna McLaughlin rallied to make the Grand Prix Final.
Rockne Brubaker and Keauna McLaughlin rallied to make the Grand Prix Final. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(11/30/2007) - American pair Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker clinched a trip to the Grand Prix Final next month with a strong second-place finish at the NHK Trophy on Friday night.

Fourth after the short program, the duo vaulted to second on the technical strength of their free skate to "Romeo and Juliet," which included a well-executed Group 5 toe lasso lift, and Group 5 Axel lasso lift.

"We are so happy. We get to go to the final!" a joyful McLaughlin said. "Hopefully, we can get a medal there."

Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy won the pairs title by a large margin despite a less than scintillating free skate. Szolkowy touched down with both hands on a triple Salchow midway through, and their final maneuver, a throw triple Salchow, was only a single.

Despite the miscues, the pair tallied 190.64 points to win over McLaughlin and Brubaker, who scored 166.48.

McLaughlin touched down with one hand on their throw triple Salchow, and had a two-footed landing on a double Axel, but other than that the pair put forth an inspiring performance.

Brubaker claims the couple, who finished second at the Cup of China, still has room for improvement.

"It's all a process that we are still working on. The Germans have some elements that we don't. We know where we are doing well and where we need some work."

Canada's Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, who have already qualified for the GP Final, took third place. Dube fell on a triple Salchow and a throw triple Lutz.

"We weren't very good today," said Davison. "It was a good learning experience for us."

"It's better that we made the mistakes here than at the final," Dube said.

Italy's Carolina Kostner won the short program over heavily favored world champion Miki Ando.

Skating to "Riders on the Storm" by The Doors, Kostner opened with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination jump and hit a double Axel to register 61.24 points and outdistance Ando, who was second with 60.52.

"I made some small mistakes in my program, so I was surprised to be first," said Kostner.

Ando, looking dazzling in a blue-sequined costume with a touch of orange, planned to open with a triple Lutz-triple loop combo, but decided to change the latter to a double following the warm-up period. She completed the combo, followed that with a triple flip, and also hit a double Axel, but went off balance during her spiral sequence to "Samson and Delilah."

"I hope to make my triple-triple combination and have better timing in the free skate," Ando said. "I think I will be more relaxed tomorrow.

"I went off balance on my spiral and it was supposed to be a level four, but ended up being a level one," added Ando.

A top-three finish here should qualify Ando, who was second at Skate America, for next month's Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy. The free skate is scheduled for Saturday night.

Switzerland's Sarah Meier (59.16) came in third, while Alissa Czisny (58.24) of the United States was fourth.

"This was much better than the last one (at the Cup of China)," Czisny said. "I was much more comfortable. I changed my spiral sequence this morning. I am so excited about my footwork."

Canada's Lesley Hawker was ninth. She doubled the triple Lutz planned for her opening combination jump, then stumbled on the landing of her triple flip.

"I wasn't very good today. I just missed the triple Axel. When there are only three jumps, you have to do them all."

France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder retained their lead in ice dancing heading into Saturday's free dance. They skated a French folk dance to "Breton Gavotte," and posted a score of 100.28.

"We felt good today on the ice," said Schoenfelder. "We tried to make it appealing and bring out the characters in the story. We still have to work on some technical elements."

Canada's Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue remained in second place at 96.71, while Russia's Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski were third with 92.07.

The American team of Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre, performing to an African Folk Dance theme, are in sixth at 77.28. Now in their third season of skating together, the duo was satisfied with their effort.

"It was a good performance for us today," said Bommentre. "We want to build on what we did today in the free dance tomorrow.

"This is only our fourth Grand Prix event together, and our first outside of North America," noted Navarro. "We improved from yesterday (the compulsories). There are a few technical things we can still work on."

Bommentre said the journey to Japan has been an experience for them: "The travel and getting adjusted after such a long trip have been a challenge."

Japanese-Americans Cathy and Chris Reed, skating for Japan, posted a season's best score of 44.28 in the original dance and were in 10th place at 69.73.

"We feel really great," said Cathy Reed. "The hard work we put into the past few months is paying off."