Zhangs edge Denney, Coughlin in short

Germans falter on throw triple Axel

Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang
Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(10/23/2011) - A season away doesn't seem to have hurt Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang , who nailed all of the elements in their short program to take a slim lead into Sunday's free skate.

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin sit 3.23 points behind the Chinese after a clean, relaxed skate to East of Eden. Russians Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov scored 59.62 -- the same as Denney and Coughlin -- despite Larionov's fall on a triple toe.

German world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are 3.40 points off the lead in fifth place after Savchenko fell on a throw triple Axel.

Known more for their athleticism than artistry, Zhang and Zhang -- who won the 2006 Olympic silver medal, as well as three world silver medals -- delivered a subdued, mature performance to "Transylvanian Lullaby" that included their trademark huge throw triple loop and triple twist, as well as side-by-side triple Salchows.

Their 62.85 points were especially impressive considering they have only been able to practice a short time.

"I actually had a couple of injuries: my hand, my shoulder and my knees," Hao Zhang said. "I have been skating three months and fully training for just a month and a half, so my health is still not the best. We used [the time] to relax, recover and get new energy."

Coughlin and Denney had another strong short, bettering their score at Nebelhorn Trophy last month by 2.06 points.

The Colorado Springs-based duo opened with an impressive triple twist followed by side-by-side triple toes and a solid throw triple Lutz.

"We've had some good performances so far this year already and we like skating in front of a big crowd," Coughlin said. "It was nice to feel that adrenaline. You can't replicate that at home in a cold practice rink."

Denney and Coughlin teamed up shortly after the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships, where Coughlin placed an impressive sixth with former partner Caitlin Yankowskas. Coughlin acknowledged that splitting with Yankowskas, with whom he won the 2011 U.S. title, was controversial.

"I know that everything being said wasn't positive, but we're happy together and we love skating for an audience, and we're kind of tuning out the world right now," he said.

Both skaters attributed their fast success to a strong friendship and good working relationship.

"I don't think anyone really loves the daily grind, but we're having fun coming into the rink together every day and tackling new things after each competition," Coughlin said.

"We re-did our footwork between this competition and Nebelhorn, and we were excited to see that 'Level 4' next to the straight-line step sequence. So, little projects like that are paying off, and we're having the patience to do them."

Bazarova and Larionov, the Russian bronze medalists, are lucky to sit third after Larionov fell on the opening triple toe in their short to Tosca. Strong program components scores helped their cause.

"Today, I personally am not very pleased with my performance because I made a stupid mistake falling on the jump and I missed the end of the step sequence," Larionov said through an interpreter.

"It's been working well in practice, so I don't know what happened. We will continue to work for next time."

Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch are just .02 points behind the Americans and Russians after a clean, sparkling short to the quickstep "Borsalino."

As promised, Savchenko and Szolkowy opened their Angels and Demons short with a throw triple Axel.

Although she gained the three-and-a-half rotations, Savchenko fell hard on the maneuver, and the rest of the challenging program -- including the triple twist and side-by-side triples toes -- was slightly off-kilter.

"Of course we will keep trying it; it was the first time [we] did it," the team's coach, Ingo Steuer, said. "She landed very hard and I was very happy they did all the other elements, although there was a mistake on the twist. It is a very hard element, a next step, and we have to work on it."

Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, fourth at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, sit sixth after a speedy, upbeat program to a Singin' in the Rain medley.

The pair opened with the best side-by-side triple toes of the night, followed by a triple twist and throw triple Lutz. Their only major deduction was on the straight-line steps, for which they gained just Level 1.

"We still have a lot to improve on throughout the entire season, but it's still fairly early, so we want to go back and really look at our levels and see how they are calling some of our elements and make adjustments," Brubaker said.

Brubaker skated to U.S. titles in 2008 and 2009 with former partner Keauna McLaughlin. Marley, a former singles competitor, has skated pairs for just 14 months.

"We're growing every day we practice and keep doing what we are doing," Brubaker said. "Unfortunately, the one thing you can't learn in a season is experience. That takes time and developing, but we're on the right track to doing that."

Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin, sixth at the 2011 U.S. Championships, also had a clean outing. The Arizona-based team hit a throw triple loop and triple toes in their short to Les Miserables, earning 51.55 points, good for seventh place.

"We felt really good," Vise said. "We had a good day today and we finally felt the ice a little more than we have the past couple days. We were calm and having fun out there."