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Castile, Okolski defeat strong field in Indy short

'07 U.S. champs stake claim with elegant Santana; Denney, Barrett are third

Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski are back on top at Indy.
Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski are back on top at Indy. (Kathy Slack)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/01/2009) - Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski staked an early claim to a Skate America U.S. pair slot with an elegant short program to Santana's "Samba Pa Ti" that put them atop the short program at the 2009 Indy Pairs and Dance Challenge.

The 2007 U.S. champions had stellar pair elements including a strong triple twist; hand-to-hand press lift; and solid throw triple flip. Although their side-by-side triple Salchows were downgraded, their back outside death spiral, including several difficult hand changes, gained 5.9 points, and they ended with 62.32 overall.

"It felt much better here than it did last week [at Skate Detroit]," Castile said. "Now if we could only land those jumps in competition. They're consistent in practice."

The skaters, who have been slowed by injuries in the past, are fit and hope for an international assignment this fall, possibly to Skate America.

"We'll be happy to take anything they give us," Castile said. "We're not focusing on [an assignment], we're focusing on our skating. We're healthy and it's really been coming together."

Skating to music from Love Actually, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig took second.

The Ellenton, Fla.-based team opened with a fine triple twist, but seemingly well-landed side-by-side triple Salchows were downgraded by the technical panel. They closed with three strong Level 4 elements -- the lift, death spiral and combination spin -- and earned 59.58 points.

"In terms of performance, I felt we brought the level up a step from [their last competition at] Liberty Open, but obviously there are lots of steps left," Ladwig said.

The skater has more than just competing on his mind; his wife, Janet, is due to give birth in mid-September.

"We're [scheduled to compete at] the Nancy Archer Meyer [Memorial], the competition at our home club [Southwest Florida] on Sept. 18, so I hope the baby comes earlier," he said.

"We pushed early this season to get our programs done and everything set up for our Grand Prix, and then ramp up again for nationals. Once the baby is here I'm going to cool it down a bit for a little while, maybe do one [on-ice] session a day, but still work in the gym with weights. That's another thing we've worked on, tapering our training to competitions."

U.S. silver medalists Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett were just .22 points behind their training mates with their debut of a sophisticated new short, choreographed by coach Jim Peterson to music from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance.

"It's called "Variations"," Denney said. "I listened to a bunch of music, came across it and we all liked it. It's not something you hear a lot. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote it for his brother [Julian] and it helped him become a famous cellist."

The team, who placed ninth at 2009 Worlds, was solid on seven of the eight elements, including a throw triple Lutz and side-by-side triple toe loops, but lost ground when their death spiral was dropped to Level 1 by the technical panel.

"We did all of our big tricks," Denney said. "There were a lot of new things in the program, like the lift and the back outside death spiral."

"We've never done that [death spiral] before, we've only done a forward inside death spiral. We just learned it," Barrett added. "It's still a work in progress. I think we've really improved since last year. We've worked hard on our transitions."

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin's short to Mozart's Piano Sonata no. 16 placed fourth with 52.45 points.

Although Yankowskas fell on a throw triple Salchow, the team was delighted with their triple twist, which gained full credit for the first time.

"I caught her at the hip, which is how you really get levels, and we didn't have a negative [grade of execution]," Coughlin said. "We also got great feedback on the program, so we're happy."

Kendra Moyle and Steven Pottenger were fifth with 51.93 points. The Detroit-based team had a solid outing to Tosca, including side-by-side triple Salchows and a throw triple Salchow, but their pair combination spin didn't count.

"We spin in both directions, and after we changed directions, we didn't get around three times," Pottenger explained. "It must have been just two-and-a-half or something. So instead of getting a Level 4 and maybe something like five points, we got zero."