Marley, Brubaker have eyes on Greensboro

All the news from Ice Champions Live

Michael Weiss' "Ice Champions Live" annual benefit was a hit again this year.
Michael Weiss' "Ice Champions Live" annual benefit was a hit again this year. (courtesy of ABC Television)


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By Amy Rosewater, special to
(10/25/2010) - ARLINGTON, Va. - Mary Beth Marley, the 2009 national novice silver medalist, had been on the radar screen for many pairs coaches around the country. Not only does she have strong skills as a singles skater, but she stands at just 4-9, the perfect size for a pairs skater.

But the 15-year-old from Chicago kept joking that she would only skate in pairs if Rockne Brubaker asked her to be his partner.

Marley had never met Brubaker, the two-time national champion, and thought her joke would forever keep her pairs skating career at bay.

Then over the summer -- much to Marley's surprise -- through some contacts made to her singles skating coach, Brubaker came calling. And now they are hastily putting together programs in an effort to compete at the 2011 U.S. Championships in Greensboro, N.C.

"I couldn't believe it,'' said Marley when she was notified that Brubaker was interested in skating with her.

It was no joke, and now she's a believer.

And so is he.

Marley and Brubaker, who started training together in late August, performed last night in Ice Champions Live, the sixth annual show put on by Michael Weiss and which benefits his foundation to help young skaters. Skating in front of boisterous crowd at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex (the NHL's Washington Capitals' practice facility), Marley and Brubaker performed a show program to Tom Petty's "American Girl.'' She wore a red-sequined dress while he sported jeans and a white t-shirt.

Although Brubaker, 24, has been at the top of American pairs skating for the last couple of years and Marley is a newcomer to the pairs scene, they looked as though they have been skating together for a little longer than they actually have. Not that they don't have their work cut out for them -- they have to work on their timing and shore up throws and lifts, but they didn't look out of place as a pairs team.

One might think that Brubaker would be frustrated with having to go through the rebuilding process and developing yet another partner. After all, he went through an extremely emotional season with former partner Keauna McLaughlin that ended with a fifth-place finish at nationals. The two had been considered heavy favorites to make the U.S. Olympic team but they didn't make the cut to compete in Vancouver. Only the two teams represented the United States at the Winter Games.

Brubaker was so disheartened by missing out on the Winter Games that he admitted he couldn't tune in to the Opening Ceremony and couldn't watch much of the pairs event. In June, McLaughlin and Brubaker announced the end of their partnership.

When asked if he considered quitting competitive skating, Brubaker sighed.

"I did,'' he said. "I thought maybe I should move back home. I didn't want to feel like I was taking a step back.''

But his coach, John Nicks, scheduled some tryouts anyway. After one tryout with another skater, Marley trekked out from Illinois to California. For two weeks before her tryout, Marley worked on pairs moves with Jeremy Allen, a national pairs competitor who is now a coach. The work paid off.

"She came out and we did a throw triple Lutz,'' Brubaker said. "It's not like we were flying across the ice or anything, but still ... it was impressive. I had a couple of other tryouts set up after that with other skaters and I told my coach after skating with Mary Beth that I didn't want to try out with anybody else.''

Ever since, it's been hard for Brubaker to wipe the smile off his face.

"I really can't stop smiling,'' he said. "She's made it so easy. I've never been happier training.

"I know everyone is going to wonder what we're about but this is the first time that I haven't thought, 'Nothing's impossible.' ''

Marley and Brubaker raced through all of their pairs tests in a span of a week and a half and are now practicing their programs. The short program is to music from Elizabeth and the free skate is to The Addams Family. Marley and Brubaker are training in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Marley is continuing to compete in singles skating and placed second in junior ladies behind Courtney Hicks at the Southwest Pacific Regional in Burbank, Calif., earlier this month.

Although Marley and Brubaker are calling California home, they like the fact that both have strong Chicago roots. And when they head to the Windy City for the holidays, they can continue training there.

Right now, however, the city they have their eye on is Greensboro.

"We're working really hard,'' Marley said. "We're trying to get everything comfortable and the more we can do right now, the better. It was great getting a chance to skate here and just perform together.''

Ice Champions Live featured several top names in skating, from Olympic champions Brian Boitano and Ilia Kulik and world champion Kimmie Meissner to up-and-comers such as Emmanuel Savary, Nathan Chen and Mary Kate Mulera, a 9-year-old skater from Rockville, Md. (Savary placed third at South Atlantic Regional Championships; Chen is the 2010 novice men's champion.)

Now in its sixth season, the show has generated more than $300,000 in scholarships to help finance the skating careers of young skaters. Many of the headliners were among the biggest cheerleaders for the young skaters. Meissner, for one, has watched Savary grow from a 6-year-old landing double Axels to a 12-year-old junior competitor. They both skate at the University of Delaware.

The show also includes a silent auction. Among items for bid this year was an original Dorothy Hamill doll, tickets to Steve Disson ice shows, hotel stays in Washington, D.C., and numerous autographed skating items. Weiss and his wife, Lisa, go to great lengths to put on the show, doing everything from making runs to the airport to pick up skaters to housing them. He hopes his efforts make life a little easier for future champions.

"I saw my parents struggle to put me and my sisters through skating,'' Weiss said. Weiss even thanked his mom who still helps him now."

One of the top competitive skaters in the show was Christina Gao, who placed fifth at the 2010 nationals and qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final.

"I am just so excited to be a part of this show,'' said Gao, who skated to Beyonce's take on "Ave Maria."

"I got to meet pretty much everybody and they've all been really cool. As for the Junior Grand Prix Final, Gao has been keeping close watch on some of the Russian women who have been making noise this season with their triple-triples and triple Axels.

"That's been motivating me,'' said Gao, who opened her exhibition program with a triple-triple of her own. "There are a lot of young and new competitors with really polished jumps.'' Gao, who trains with Brian Orser in Toronto, said she has been trying triple Axels and quadruple toes on the harness.

Ryan Bradley, who placed fourth at nationals, skated an entertaining routine to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He said he is trying to expand the routine into a free skate program. Stay tuned.

Great Britain's Olympic ice dancing team of Sinead Kerr and John Kerr performed in the show. Sinead is recovering from a right shoulder injury which she injured while practicing the Golden Waltz. She suffered the injury the day before they had planned to leave to compete in the Finlandia Trophy and withdrew from the event, which was held Oct. 8-10. They looked healthy at the benefit show and she performed the team's trademark move where she lifts him. Still, John said he has hold his sister differently in the Golden Waltz because she can't pull her right shoulder back too far. They plan to compete at Skate Canada this weekend in Kingston, Ont.