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Denney, Barrett lead senior pairs after short program

McLaughlin, Brubaker distant seventh

Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett are one skate away from their first national title.
Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett are one skate away from their first national title. (Getty Images)

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By Becca Staed Bishop, special to icenetwork.com
(01/15/2010) - The senior pairs short program was an eyebrow-raising event as the projected top teams fell out of the lead one by one after patchy programs Friday night.

The 2009 U.S. silver medalists Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett proved that last season's success wasn't just a fluke but a foundation for what's to come after winning the segment in convincing fashion with a personal best short program mark of 63.01.

Last year's seventh-place team Caitlin Yankowskas, 19, and John Coughlin, 24, were the segment's wildcard after finishing close behind in second with 62.09 points, while two-time U.S. pewter medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig picked up third place with 58.76 points.

After mediocre placements in their first Grand Prix season -- fourth at NHK Trophy and fifth at Skate Canada -- Denney, 16, and Barrett, 25, knew they had some work to do before showing up in Spokane.

"Ever since we got finished with Skate Canada, we got home and reworked our program and focused on our training," Barrett said. "We have been skating better the last couple weeks than we ever have, so today was pretty easy."

Their hard work paid off as they displayed a nearly flawless short program to "Firebird," featuring a huge triple Lutz twist lift, followed by spot-on side-by-side triple toes. They lost 0.30 points on their backward outside death spiral but finished up with a Group 4, Level 4 lift and a spotless pairs combination spin that also received a Level 4. Their 27.38 component mark led the second and third teams by nearly two points.

"We train both programs everyday," said Barrett. "We have so much muscle memory. So today we just went out there and let our bodies take over and tried to enjoy it."

Winning the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria in late October gave Yankowskas and Coughlin the confidence they needed coming into this event.

"We had personal bests on both of our programs, and that was where we made that jump," said Coughlin. "We competed against some of the top international teams in Europe. That was a big turning point for us and gave us that motivation."

After only two seasons together, in which they collected five sixth- and seventh-place Grand Prix and U.S. Championship finishes, the duo is finally hitting their stride.

Skating to Mozart's "Piano Sonata No. 16," they duo received no negative GOEs from the judges. They opened with a Level 2 triple Lutz twist lift, followed by an excellent throw triple Salchow and clean side-by-side triple toes that earned the program's highest GOE of 0.86. Their Group 4 lift and both of their spins were graded Level 4s, while their straight-line step sequence and backward outside death spiral received Level 3s from the technical panel.

"I didn't realize we were skating clean until we were in our pairs spin at the end and Caitlin goes, 'Toes?' asking if I landed it, and I go 'Yep!' and she goes 'Sweet!,' Coughlin said.

"[Spokane] is a special town. I remember being here in 2007, and it just feels so warm. The moment you get on the ice you just want to give them something you can get behind because you know they are going to cheer for you."

Skating last, Evora, 25, and Ladwig, 29, used the wait to their advantage, skating a strong short to the Love Actually theme.

"In the past we would get ourselves going and would never step back and breathe, but this time we got a chance to see that, skating last and taking our time, we got to breathe," Ladwig said.

The duo had two costly mistakes -- Ladwig flipped forward out of his triple toe and Evora over-rotated the throw triple loop, losing nearly three-and-a-half points combined. However, the rest of their elements were excellent, including an opening triple Lutz twist lift that received the highest GOE of 0.90 points. Both of their spins received Level 4s, as did their backward outside death spiral and their Group 4 lift, and their circular step sequence was graded a Level 3.

Pairs veterans Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, the two-time U.S. champions and 2006 Olympians, are in fourth place with 57.77 points going into tomorrow's free skate after a touch-and-go short program to a tango by Vanessa-Mae in which Inoue fell on the throw triple Axel.

Reigning two-time U.S. pairs champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker sit seventh after a disastrous short program, in which they had two falls, earning a 52.55 segment score.

"I'm not gonna lie; I'm upset," McLaughlin said. "But I have a fire lit inside of me, and tomorrow I am going to go out and be aggressive and not go down without a fight."