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McLaughlin, Brubaker win pairs title

Team wins gold, but won't get ticket to worlds

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker.
Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker. (Paul Harvath)

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By Liz Leamy, special to icenetwork.com
(01/26/2008) - The comeback is complete for the pairs team of Keauna McLaughln and Rockne Brubaker. They rallied back from a December injury that side-lined Brubaker to capture the U.S. Figure Skating Championships gold medal in pairs.

"I can't believe we're the national champions," the 15-year-old McLaughlin said. "It's been a lot of hard work. Everything fell into place."

The young team mesmerized the crowd and impressed the judges with their superb free skate to Romeo and Juliet. The program earned 124.20 points, and the couple took first place in the free skate.

Their total score of 190.74 put them more than seven points ahead of the field.

Their signature lasso lift, with Brubaker carrying McLaughlin while doing forward crossovers, drew gasps from the crowd, as did their high lateral triple twist. They also reeled off a soaring throw triple Salchow, a throw triple loop and side-by-side double Axels.

The couple missed their side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe combination when McLaughlin fell on the landing of the first jump.

"I think I just rushed it a little bit, but the program was good before that element and after that element," she said.

In December, Brubaker suffered from cellulitis, a potentially serious skin infection in his left foot. The team was forced to withdraw from the free skate at the Grand Prix Final in Torino.

Brubaker showed championship mettle by immersing himself in extensive ultrasound and deep tissue treatments, and returning to the ice three weeks later. By the time he arrived in Saint Paul, he was back to 100 percent.

"It's all about the mindset and being in the moment," he said, adding that he had been inspired by the book, Mind Gym, by Gary Mack, to help him strengthen his mental outlook on things.

Still, gold is not all-powerful in this particular situation. McLaughlin, born Sept. 25, 1992, is not age-eligible under International Skating Union rules for senior world competition. As a result, the team will not compete at the 2008 Worlds in Gothenburg, Sweden, in March.

"Of course, we would love to go to worlds, but maybe it's a blessing in disguise. It gives us another year to grow and progress as a team," said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin and Brubaker, who train at the World Arena under Dalilah Sappenfield, plan to step up their performance standard next season. Over the next few months, the team is meeting with renowned choreographers, Lori Nichol, Lea Ann Miller and David Wilson to discuss program possibilities for the 2008-09 season.

Two-time U.S. champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin skated home with the silver medal, proving they are a formidable force even though they skipped the entire fall Grand Prix season.

The veteran skaters had a lot more to celebrate than another trip to worlds: at the end of their second-place free skate, Baldwin got down on one knee and proposed to his partner.

She said, "Yes".

"I planned on it. I wanted to do it at worlds last year, but it wasn't the right time. I decided to do it this morning after our practice," said Baldwin.

"I didn't know. He didn't tell me and didn't tell anybody. Of course, I said 'Yes.' I can't tell you how many things that we've been through together. We've gone through a lot," said Inoue.

Romance aside; the couple took a big risk coming here with just two weeks of preparation.

"It was a big accomplishment for us, considering the amount of time we've spent training," said Baldwin.

The couple skated a solid, but slow and conservative program for which they were awarded a total segment score of 117.93, for a final overall mark of 183.17.

They opened with impressive side-by-side triple toes, and followed up with a split double twist, a throw triple loop and a throw triple Axel, on which she hopped out of the landing.

Inoue touched down on the landing of her side-by-side double Axel-double toe combination. This caused the couple to get some negative grades of execution.

For Inoue and Baldwin, this event was all about getting back in the competitive game once again. Since the spring, they had been touring with Smuckers Stars on Ice, and various other skating shows overseas. This marked their competitive debut of the 2008 season.

Defending champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski grabbed the bronze medal with their program to "Scherezade." The routine was awarded a total segment score of 116.12 points, their final point tally was 175.07.

Castile and Okolski were happy with the outcome, in spite of the fact that they had dropped two placements from last year.

"I think this is the best we could've done in this type of atmosphere and in this situation," said Castile.

Over the summer, Castile suffered from a variety of ailments on her left side, including Sciatica and an LCL. As a result, the couple missed the fall Grand Prix season.

The couple did a quick triple twist, along with a huge throw triple Salchow. "We held onto everything and really fought for the program," explained Okolski.

Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent clinched fourth with their dramatic program to Les Miserables. Their program scored a 107.23 total segment score. The couple earned a total point score of 161.20.

Despite a fall on their throw quad Salchow and throw triple loop, they rallied through their program.

They did a nice lateral double twist that was awarded +1 (GOE's), and a double flip-double toe combination, among other things.

"This was one of our better performances, obviously minus the two throws," said Vise.

U.S. Pairs World Team

Rena Inoue and John Baldwin
Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski

World Championship Pairs Team Alternates

Alternate 1: Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent
Alternate 2: Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig
Alternate 3: Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin