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Denney, Coughlin soar through free skate debut

New team dominates field at early-season test

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin continued to look good in the early going, winning the free skate.
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin continued to look good in the early going, winning the free skate. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/01/2011) - After Friday's short program, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin's coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, said her skaters, on week ten of their partnership, had no time to waste if they wanted to make an international statement this fall.

They must have taken her words to heart. Their debut of their dramatic free skate, choreographed by Marina Zoueva to a medley of Vanessa-Mae's and Jeff Beck's versions of "Nessun Dorma," pushed them new heights and earned an eye-catching 116.02 points.

"We're on a good early-season pace with that score," Coughlin said. "We're pleased with the starting point of our skating components. We're going to go home, watch our video and take some of the bugs out [of the program]."

The team flew through opening triple toes and a huge triple twist before Denney fell on the second jump in a double Axel-double Axel sequence. Although a death spiral gained just Level 1, it was clear sailing through two triple throws, loop and Lutz, to a fast-rotating closing lift with a swooping drop exit reminiscent of three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.

"We knew we wanted something to match the [crescendo of] the music and this [lift] is a creation Dalilah dreamed up," Coughlin said. "What makes it difficult is we do a circle with one hand. We were being monitored at the Broadmoor [Open], and Todd was there, so I told him [the exit] was for him."

"It's early in the season, so it felt good for the first time out," Denney said. "We learned from this competition how we [should] relate to each other in the program, the breathing spots and the timing, and how to work on the second mark [components score]."

The height of their triple twist has caught the eye of competing coaches.

"You've got to keep up with what's going on around you, and right now, it's the triple twist -- not just from this team, but other teams," Jim Peterson, who coaches two-time U.S. silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, said.

"Mark and Amanda are definitely re-working their triple twist. It's perfectly good, and it's gotten Level 3, but we want that 'wow' factor."

Canadian bronze medalists Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, second to Denney and Coughlin in the short, performed an entertaining program to a medley including Maxime Rodriguez's "D'Artagnan" and Man in the Iron Mask, choreographed by Vancouver's Mark Pillay.

As usual, their routine featured magnificent -- and risky -- Level 4 lifts, as well as a big throw triple Lutz late in the program. They lost points by doubling intended triple toes and faltering on their closing side-by-side spins, and placed second with 105.61 points.

"It's a great start for our season," Swiegers said. "We have a couple of new lifts that are not quite comfortable yet, but we're very excited about them.

"One of them we call our split lift. I catch her in the air, and on transition she rolls on to one hand in an almost upside-down platter position. It's very challenging -- we had trouble with it in practice today -- but I'm glad we did it in the program. A lot of teams are doing lifts in the same style but we like to bend the rules as much as possible. We like hearing those gasps from the crowd."

Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin took third place with an impressive, if conservative, program to music from Legends of the Fall and "Time to Say Goodbye."

Impressive, because of the huge throw triple loop, strong lifts and handstand transition into a throw triple Salchow; conservative, in that they elected to do double, and not triple, side-by-side jumps. The Arizona-based team, coached by former Canadian pairs champion Doug Ladret, earned 99.22 points.

"It's a work in progress," Vise said. "We're very happy with our score for so early in the season."

"Of course one of our goals is to add the triple Salchows for our next competition, which will probably be Skate America," Baldwin said.

Vise explained how the unusual handstand, which she does while balancing her hands on Baldwin's skates, came about.

"Doug [Ladret] was looking to add some new transitions, and we had done the move in a club show, and it was all everybody talked about," she said. "We decided to give it a try in the program."

U.S. junior champions Ashley Cain and Joshua Reagan earned 97.61 points for an ambitious program to music from Dr. Zhivago.

The program, chock full of interesting transitions and challenging choreography, opened with a lovely Level 4 lift and included two strong triple throws, a flip and a Salchow. Reagan turned out of the second jump of a triple Salchow-double Axel sequence, and later on a triple toe, but Peter Cain, Ashley's father and one of the team's coaches, called the mistakes "minor glitches."

"This was really their first full run-through of the program so we're happy with it," he said, adding that his daughter has worked to balance her singles' skating at the junior level with her pairs' work.

"We will probably focus more on pairs when we get back, to prepare for [U.S. Figure Skating's] Champs Camp and Cup of Russia, but Ashley still wants to skate singles," Peter said. "She feels it helps make her a stronger pairs skater."

Skating to music from Swan Lake, Andrea Poapst and Chris Knierim impressed with a huge triple twist and throw triple Salchow as well as strong lifts.

The team, in their second season together, scaled back their side-by-side jumps to a single Axel combination and double Salchows and also faltered on their closing death spiral, but placed fifth with 92.69 points.

Also performing to Swan Lake, Lindsay Davis and Themi Leftheris showed creative lifts, a Level 2 triple twist, and a solid throw triple loop, but Davis faltered on two triple jumps, a loop and Salchow. An otherwise impressive throw triple Lutz had a slightly flawed landing. The dynamic program earned 92.65 for sixth place.

"I'm very happy with the way the program looks overall," Peter Oppegard, the team's coach, said. "They need more experience doing the program, to keep building the confidence needed to support the big tricks. They were just a little too cautious here."