Yankowskas, Coughlin are tops after pairs short

Evora, Ladwig place second; Marley, Brubaker in third

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin rose to the top of the pairs leaderboard.
Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin rose to the top of the pairs leaderboard. (Paul Harvath)


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By Mickey Brown, special to
(01/27/2011) - "We like being chased instead of [being the ones] doing the chasing."

Thanks to his and Caitlin Yankowskas' marvelous performance Thursday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum, John Coughlin will get his wish.

The pair from Colorado Springs put out a clean and, at times, world-class skate to Astor Piazzolla's "Tango Oblivion" to win the short program at the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Coughlin made no secret as to what the team's intentions are.

"We want to challenge the two Olympic teams from the U.S," he said. "To be the best, you have to beat the best."

Yankowskas and Coughlin, who have two sixth-place finishes and a seventh-place showing at the last three U.S. Championships, were the only team to receive positive Grades of Execution for all seven of their elements. Their highest GOE, of 1.07, was awarded for their almost-perfectly-in-sync combination spin, which earned +2 and +3 from eight of the nine judges.

"I don't think anybody trains for second place," Coughlin said. "This season isn't about redemption for us. In the back of our minds, if we skate well, like we did out there, we're tough to beat."

The program they performed Thursday almost didn't happen. They had wanted to skate to Dr. Zhivago this season, but their coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, insisted they try a tango.

"She wanted us to step out of the box and show we can have a different side to us this year," Coughlin said. "She said, 'Trust me,' and we did."

Yankowskas and Coughlin do not have the classic tango look. Both have blue eyes and light-colored hair.

But they do have the necessary passion.

"Who knew you could bring a tango out of somebody that looked like me?" Coughlin joked.

A point and a half behind the leaders are reigning U.S. silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig. They executed everything well except the throw triple loop, on which she put her hand down on the ice, to finish with 62.87 points for the segment.

The team, along with coaches Jim Peterson and Lyndon Johnston, decided to change its short program after the Grand Prix Series, in which they placed fifth in China and third in Russia, from a James Horner-composed tango to the jazzy "Sing, Sing, Sing."

"We wanted to find a piece we felt was still opposite from our long but also seemed to be with our personality," Evora said. "I can smile more in this program."

Maybe the most eagerly awaited skate of the day was that of Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, who have been together all of five months. After a small mistake on their triple twist, the new pair breezed through the remaining elements in their Elizabeth program, including spot-on, side-by-side triple toes.

"We have all the right tools -- from Mary Beth's work ethic and ability to the guidance of our coaches." Brubaker said. "What we've done in a short amount of time, it's pretty remarkable."

Those coaches include John Nicks, who believes the sky's the limit for this budding duo.

"They show wonderful potential. The future is great for them in a period where American pairs skating isn't too defined," Nicks said. "In Rockne, I've never seen a young man as focused to get to the Olympics as he is. Mary Beth's work ethic is second to none. When you have those two together, this is a potent arrangement."

A fall on her triple toe put reigning U.S. champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett in fourth.

"I got a little quick. For me, my typical mistake is to rush things and get ahead of myself," Denney said. "Tomorrow, I'll stay more relaxed and calm."