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Denney, Coughlin fly high in Liberty debut

Skaters stun crowd with huge triple twist

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin easily won the short program and are looking forward to debuting their free skate this weekend.
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin easily won the short program and are looking forward to debuting their free skate this weekend. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/15/2011) - If their debut in the short program at the Liberty Summer Competition is any indication, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin will soar this season.

"We've been sitting at home, waiting to live up to the hype," Coughlin, 25, said. "We really wanted to get out there."

The Colorado Springs-based skaters, who began their partnership after the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships, opened their East of Eden program with a powerful triple twist so high it seemed to send Denney into the rafters.

"That twist, it felt big," Coughlin said. "I liked it."

They followed with side-by-side triple toes and a step sequence that gained Level 4 [one of three Level 4 step sequences of the four-pair event]. Their throw triple Lutz -- the first of Coughlin's career -- gained 6.20 points.

Like other pairs in the event, they gained just Level 1 for their death spiral, but closed with a Level 4 pair combination spin.

Denney and Coughlin finished with 58 points, more than eight points ahead of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir.

"Obviously they have power, and we wanted big, bold elements," said their coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, who choreographed East of Eden. "We also wanted to show off their softer side. I know Rachael Flatt skated to East of Eden, but I don't recall any pair team skating to it."

Sappenfield said the elements came easily to Denney and Coughlin, experienced skaters who won the last two U.S. pairs titles with different partners. [Denney won the 2010 title with Jeremy Barrett, and Coughlin and Caitlin Yankowskas are reigning U.S. pairs champions.]

"Caydee trusted John right away," Sappenfield said. "Still, we don't want to rush the chemistry. We're still working through the programs."

"Skating with Caydee is easy," Coughlin said. "You hold her hand, and you want to take care of her."

Sappenfield said Denney and Coughlin came together after Caydee's younger sister Haven visited Colorado Springs for a tryout with Brandon Frazier.

"A couple of years ago, we went to Colorado Springs and the family was separated," Caydee said. "That was not going to happen again. I knew I wanted to continue [competing], and I knew I wanted Dalilah as my main coach."

Coughlin, meanwhile, said he had decided to retire after he and Yankowskas placed an impressive sixth at the world championships in Moscow. Still struggling with the aftermath of his mother Stacy's death in February 2010, he thought he had accomplished all he could in the competitive end of the sport.

"After Moscow, I planned to retire," Coughlin said. "I went to Dalilah, thanked her for everything, and said I hoped I could work with her [coaching] the younger teams."

Sappenfield urged him to try out with Denney.

"I said, 'Give it another week,'" she said. "He had struggled so much with the loss [of his mother] last season. I knew if there was one person who would keep him skating, it was Caydee.

"Caydee has so much to offer. Her talent is untapped. And John, I thought, had just started to tap into what he could do last season."

Coughlin and Denney will not compete their new free, choreographed by Marina Zoueva to "Nessun Dorma," here. They plan to debut it at the Indy Pairs Challenge later this month.

Castelli and Shnapir had an impressive outing to Phantom of the Opera, landing side-by-side triple toes and a strong throw triple Salchow.

The Boston-based skaters lost ground when their pair combination spin failed to gain any points, but still earned 49.35 points for second place.

"So far this feels like it will be one of my favorite programs," Castelli said of the short, which was choreographed by Deirdre Williams and Sheryl Franks.

"It shows our strong and powerful side but also has a slow and emotional middle section that shows the connection between us. That's something we haven't always done before."

"We really have to sort of leave behind our older, purely athletic programs and step it up a notch," Shnapir added. "I think we have a big opportunity this season and we want to go for it. We're in a good place."

Castelli and Shnapir, who are coached by Bobby Martin, Carrie Wall and Franks at the Skating Club of Boston, will compete their free to a Rachmaninoff Concerto on Friday. They plan to include their throw triple Axel, which Castelli has been landing in practice.

Another new team, Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay, was third with 47.50 points. The University of Delaware skaters attempted side-by-side triple Lutzes in their short, but Zhang fell.

"They've been hitting them solid in practice," Jim Peterson, who has been working with the team, said. "They are both strong on that jump."

Zhang and Bartholomay were paired by coach Jeff DiGregorio after splitting with their previous partners. After a few tryouts with other skaters, the two have been working together since "late April or early May."

"At this point, we are the only [senior or junior] team in Delaware, so Jeff encouraged us to branch out," Bartholomay said. "We went down to Florida to have our free choreographed [by Peterson] two weeks ago."

At the end of July, the team will return to Florida to work with Peterson and Lyndon Johnston. They may compete their short and free (choreographed to "Concerto de Aranjuez" and a Spanish Tango) at the Cranberry Open and Mid-Atlantics Championship later this summer.

Duarte, Grafton lead junior field
Kylie Duarte and Colin Grafton, who train in Colorado Springs with Sappenfield's group, won the junior pairs short with a solid program to Massenet's "Meditation" from Thais that included a throw triple loop. They earned 47.14 points.

Minnesota-based Olivia Oltmanns and Joshua Santillan are second with 43.44 after an entertaining short to a scat version of the theme from Pink Panther. Skating to a medley from Chicago, Denney and Frazier are close behind with 43.30 points.

All eight junior pairs are scheduled to compete their free skates on Friday.