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Brubaker returns to Taipei, new partner in hand

U.S.-born skaters jumpstart the sport in Taiwan

Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker are looking to make the most of their opportunity to compete at Four Continents.
Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker are looking to make the most of their opportunity to compete at Four Continents. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford and Alexandra Stevenson, special to icenetwork.com
(02/15/2011) - The ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships get underway Thursday at the Taipei Multipurpose Arena, a magnificent sea of blue seats and red stair aisles completed in August 2005.

When Rockne Brubaker teamed up with Keauna McLaughlin in 2006, they won every contest they entered. That included their first international, the Junior Grand Prix in Taipei, which makes Brubaker's return to this city a good sign.

After the first practice on Tuesday, on the secondary rink, he and his new partner Mary Beth Marley couldn't stop smiling.

"We didn't expect this," Brubaker, 24, said. "Of course, we sympathize with Jeremy [Barrett, who was entered in this event with partner Caydee Denney]. Forty-two stitches, that's horrible.

"We heard on Friday that we would be their replacement. It was short notice, but of course, we were willing and able."

McLaughlin and Brubaker won U.S. titles in 2008 and 2009. They ended their partnership in June 2010.

Brubaker and Marley placed fourth at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro last month. Denney and Barrett, who won the U.S. title in 2010, were third; they, along with U.S. champions Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, and U.S. silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, were named to the Four Continents team. A training accident ended Denney and Barrett's season, and the call went out to first alternates Marley and Brubaker.

"We thought nationals ended our season and then this came along," Marley, 15, said. "I can't believe we're this far along in our career already."

Marley has taken to pair skating like the proverbial fish to water, with great seriousness but also with enormous delight. She had no pairs experience when she tried out with Brubaker last summer.

"I love the throws and the lifts," she said. "The throw triple Lutz is an amazing experience.

"I don't want to give up my singles career [Marley placed fifth in junior ladies in Greensboro]. I think I can do both. But if Rocky had forced me to make a choice, I probably would have chosen pairs. It's like flying."

The tiny skater has proven her determination and strength. In January, she and Brubaker traveled to Torun, in the center of Poland -- not an easy trip from their California training home -- to compete in the GAM Nestle Nesquik Cup, where they handily defeated the one other pair entered. The small event was ISU approved, so they gained the required minimum score necessary to compete at an international this season.

While in Torun, Marley skated with a 103-degree temperature.

"It was that important we get the scores," she said. "And, looking back, that turned out to be the right decision."

Their coach, the ageless (he is 81) John Nicks, said with typical British understatement, "With just five months together and for Mary Beth never having done pairs before, they are doing a great job.

"This is just the beginning. They have a lot of potential. We'll see what comes with time."

Born in the U.S.A...but competing for Taipei
Born in the USA but competing for Chinese Taipei is a theme here.

The three ladies and two of the three men representing the host country in the 2011 ISU Four Continents Championships are U.S.-born. All six have one goal in mind: to fire-up a small revolution and get this sub-tropical country to embrace their graceful sport.

As they spoke on Tuesday in a press conference with the Sports Minister and other high-level government dignitaries, facing a battery of television cameras from China and Japan as well as the local stations, their pride in their heritage was apparent.

Reigning national champion Melinda Wang -- who also won the title in 2008 -- was born in New York City. The 20-year-old now lives and trains in Naperville, Ill., hometown of Olympic champion Evan Lysacek. This past summer, she didn't get to skate much because of school commitments, but said, "I would still like to do as much as I can to push the sport."

Silver medalist Crystal Kiang, a 20-year-old born in Valley Stream, Long Island, N.Y. who trains under Tracy Doyle-Lunde in Westchester County, N.Y., said, "The event is already sold out for the last two days, and it's a very big arena. I would like to think we'll be inspiring a whole generation of youngsters to take up the sport."

Actually, tickets are being given away, a strategy to generate interest in those who would not normally consider attending an "esoteric" sport. It appears to be working. Filling a 15,000 stadium is quite a feat.

Chaochih Liu, the 2009 national champion who turned 18 on February 10, was born in Springfield, Mich., and now lives in California, training with John Nicks. She has returned to her roots "at least once a year."

"There normally is almost no interest in the sport here but making the tickets available to everyone is a wonderful idea," Liu said. "I went past the box office and there were a lot of people there, and they seemed to be getting excited about it."

Wang is a former ice dancer at the national level in the U.S. This will be her fourth appearance in the Four Continents championship. Last year, she finished 19th to Kiang's 18th while Liu was a disappointing 30th.

The country's men's champion, Stephen Li-Chung Kuo, 20, was born in Trenton, N.J., lives in Plainsboro, N.J. and trains with Roman Serov in Hackensack. He was 16th in this event last year.

Jordan Ju, who was born in Vancouver May 29, 1995, is the event's "baby". He is legal to take part in this event by just three months and two days. This is his first senior international although he has represented Chinese Taipei in two Junior Grand Prix events this season.

For Wun-Chang Shih, 24, who was born in this city, the Taipei Annex Arena -- an Olympic-sized rink adjacent to the arena which functions year round -- is home ice.