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Germans erase deficit, win Skate America gold

McLaughlin, Brubaker take silver; Russians drop to bronze

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy show off their new gold medals.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy show off their new gold medals. (Paul Harvath)

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(10/25/2008) - Saturday's pairs free skate at Skate America served as yet another reminder of how quickly things can change in the sport of figure skating.

Less than 24 hours after some were ready to anoint new kings of the pairs skating hill, the reigning monarchs reclaimed their crown while the insurgents tumbled hard.

Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov led world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy by more than two points after Friday's short program, but a calamitous free skate caused the Russians to drop to third and the Germans to take the title. Americans Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker also took advantage of Mukhortova and Trankov's misfortune. They came up with an excellent free skate of their own to win the silver, their third in as many appearances in the Grand Prix Series.

Savchenko and Szokowy narrowly won the free skate over McLaughlin and Brubaker, 116.69-115.67. The Americans' technical score (59.99) was more than four points higher than that of the Germans (55.81). Third in the free skate were Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin of Canada. Their segment score of 105.54 gave them 159.80 points for the competition, placing them fourth overall.

The Germans had a few minor errors through the first nine elements of their Schindler's List program, but they ended badly, as she singled their throw triple Salchow, and they failed to receive credit for their last combination spin, although neither knew why. On the bright side, they received Level 4s on all three of their lifts.

"Our program was a little better than [our short program] last night," Szolkowy said. "We made a few mistakes, and one big mistake on the throw at the end, but it's something we can improve on."

This is the fifth Grand Prix event at which the Germans have won gold, sixth if you count last season's Grand Prix Final.

McLaughlin and Brubaker nailed their triple Salchow-double toe combination, landed both of their throw triples and earned Level 4s for all of their lifts and spins. Their only major miscue came on their triple toe -- he doubled it, and she two-footed the landing.

Their West Side Story program, which is choreographed by Lee Ann Miller, is significantly more difficult than their programs from a year ago.

"In the transitions and presentation, we're working toward what the second mark in skating [program components] is all about," Brubaker said. "It's harder. It's a different direction [than we went in] last year, but it's really helping our skating all around."

McLaughlin and Brubaker still have yet to come away empty-handed from a competition. In the two-plus years they've been together, they have won six golds and three silvers in the nine events they've entered.

Mukhortova and Trankov struggled with their "The Lady and the Hooligan" free skate right from the get-go, experiencing three falls in the first 1:30 of the program. They each fell on attempted triple jumps, and she failed to stay upright on their throw triple loop. Their technical score (46.91) was the second lowest of any team in the segment.

Being in the lead going into the free skate was an unfamiliar position for the Russians, especially in a field that included the world's No. 1 team.

"I don't think we felt any pressure," Mukhortova said. "It was difficult for us to perform last in the [free skate] competition. The only question was whether we would do a good job, and today we did not."

Another team that did not do a good job was Americans Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, who placed fifth in the free skate and fifth overall. They attempted the throw triple Axel, just as they had done in Friday's short program, and the result was the same: a fall.

"We've had a challenging schedule, and I thought that would help us, but you have to take these competitions seriously, and it's very difficult," Baldwin said. "If you could get ready in a week, everybody could do it."

The other American team, Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, skated much better Saturday than it did earlier this year. They scored 11 points higher for their Dracula program in Everett than they did at the Nebelhorn Trophy last month (93.30 as compared to 82.22).

"The two things Dalilah [Sappenfield] talked to us about are being tough on those elements and me not giving up on the character when I get tired," Coughlin said. "We got stronger as the program went on."