Top U.S. senior pairs face off at Indy Challenge

Teams must polish their programs and impress U.S. officials

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker will be among the top pairs competing at Indy.
Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker will be among the top pairs competing at Indy. (Paul Harvath)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(08/07/2008) - Last week, ice dancers showed off their twizzles and perfected their lifts at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. Now it's time for pair skaters to take center ice.

The 2008 Indy Pairs Challenge, hosted by the Indiana/World Skating Academy Figure Skating Club in Indianapolis from Thursday through Sunday, features about 60 teams from the juvenile ranks up.

The senior event is expected to include current U.S. champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, as well as reigning U.S. bronze medalists and 2007 champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski.

In addition, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, ranked fifth in the U.S.; Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, sixth; and Naomi Nari Nam and Themistocles Leftheris, former U.S. bronze medalists, are slated to compete. Jessica Rose Paetsch, who won the 2008 U.S. junior pairs title with Jon Nuss, and Drew Meekins, the 2006 world junior pairs champion with Julia Vlassov, will debut their new senior partnership.

Like other summer competitions, Indy lets skaters test out new programs and gain feedback from international-level judges and technical specialists. For teams who do not yet have international assignments, the event is a chance to impress U.S. Figure Skating officials and gain a coveted spot to compete at a fall event.

"[Indy] will be just the second time out for Caitlan and me with our programs," Coughlin said. "We kept the same music as last season [from Saint-Saëns "Dying Swan" and Bram Stoker's Dracula], but the choreography has been totally retooled to incorporate more transitions and add another set of triple jumps [Salchows]."

Coughlin and Yankowskas, who will compete at Skate America this October, are among those seeking a second assignment.

"There are a couple of 'senior B' spots open for grabs, and we're hoping for one, maybe Nebelhorn Trophy in September," Coughlin said.

Like McLaughlin and Brubaker and several other junior and senior teams, Coughlin and Yankowskas train at Colorado Springs' World Arena under Dalilah Sappenfield, winner of the 2008 Professional Skater's Association Coach of the Year award.

"This is a great opportunity to practice run-throughs and get new programs out there," Sappenfield said. "Our pairs had a lot of success last season, and we don't want to change things now. We want to compete, get comfortable and get on track. This competition sets everyone going in the right direction."

Athletes will get competition-ready critiques from officials, and teams being considered for international events will receive in-depth evaluation sessions.