Yankowskas, Coughlin win first U.S. title

Defending champs Denney, Barrett finish third

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin won the national pairs title Saturday.
Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin won the national pairs title Saturday. (Michelle Harvath)


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By Mickey Brown, special to
(01/29/2011) - When the music stopped, he cried into her hand.

As the last note of their "Ave Maria" program was played, and John Coughlin knelt on the ice holding his partner Caitlin Yankowskas' hand to his face, the enormity of what they had accomplished and, more poignantly, had overcome hit him.

The tears came briefly, and then he stood up and skated around the rink, basking in the deafening cheers. From then on, it was hard to wipe the smile off Coughlin's face.

In an emotionally charged atmosphere, he and Yankowskas captured their first U.S. title Saturday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum, edging silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig. Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett took the bronze, while first-year team Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker earned the pewter.

It was a little less than a year ago that Coughlin lost his mother to chronic respiratory illness, and the team dedicated this season and, in particular, their free skate to the memory of Stacy Coughlin.

"I did not want to do [skate to "Ave Maria"]. I didn't think I'd be able to get through the season. There was a lot of gentle and not so gentle prodding," Coughlin said. "What I wanted to do is go out and clown around on the ice and not acknowledge what happened."

But the team's coaches, Dalilah Sappenfield and Larry Ibarra, and the program's choreographer, Marina Zoueva, insisted that this would be the most therapeutic way for Coughlin to deal his loss.

"It was very, very difficult to do at first. We'd press play with the music, get three seconds in and have to stop. Emotionally, it was really difficult," Yankowskas said. "As the months went on, it became easier."

The team rode the program to third- and fourth-place finishes in its two Grand Prix events in the fall-the best cumulative results of any U.S. team-and used it to give Sappenfield her third U.S. title in four seasons.

"I told myself that no matter what we did today competitively, to get out on the ice and perform the program was going to be a happy moment for me," Coughlin said. "To think it went the way it did is unreal."

Yankowskas and Coughlin received positive Grades of Execution for 11 of its 12 elements, including a +1.2 for its throw triple Salchow, and they were the only team to receive positive GOEs on both of their jump elements in the free skate.

"We didn't allow ourselves to think about how well it was going until it was over," Coughlin said. "I could have stayed out there forever."

For the second year in a row, Evora and Ladwig placed second, though they made it much closer this time, finishing three points out of first. Skating to "Nessun Dorma," the Florida-based team actually earned a higher technical score in the free skate than Yankowskas and Coughlin-62.09 to 61.97.

A second trip in as many years to the World Championships appears to be in the cards for Evora and Ladwig.

"I was less nervous this time around than I thought I was going to be," Evora said. "It was nice to feel organized within the program, and I felt I had done my personal goals within it."

Denney and Barrett recovered nicely after a fall in the short program to earn their third straight podium finish. The only major mistake they made in their "Rhapsody in Blue" free skate came on their planned double Axel-double Axel, which he failed to perform cleanly, causing them to not receive credit for a combination.

"It's been a long year for us. We were happy to get a solid program out there. We feel like nobody has seen it to its full potential," Barrett said. "There were a couple little things here or there, but it was much better than what we've done this year."

For a team that has only been together five months-and one of whose members is 15 and had never skated pairs before -- Marley and Brubaker showed good unison and maturity. Their technical prowess was on display as well as they landed both of their throws and both of their jump elements.

"Few people, if any, could have done what Mary Beth did in the last few months, and not only doing that but doing double disciplines here," Brubaker said. "It's a tremendous amount of pressure, and it takes a lot of energy and determination to do that."

Marley finished fifth in junior ladies in Greensboro, and she hinted she might give up her singles career in the near future.

"I didn't want to be that type of pairs team or singles skater that [just] does well in an event, that just misses the top of the podium. I want to excel at one event." Marley said. "Choosing would be the best option."