Marley and Brubaker are singin' in San Jose
California pair leads by 4.53 points; favored teams make costly errors
|Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker take a 4.53-point advantage into the free skate. (Tom Briglia)|
Thursday night, they performed their short program as if they had already arrived.
"I haven't felt that good on the ice in probably a couple of years," Brubaker said.
In their second U.S. championships together, Brubaker, a two-time U.S. pairs champion with Keauna McLaughlin, and Marley, who has only skated pairs for 16 months, outshone the field and lead by 4.53 points entering the free skate at the 2012 U.S. Championships.
The zippy California duo set San Jose's HP Pavilion alight with a dynamic program to Singin' in the Rain that had everyone in the arena feeling happy again. They reeled off perfect triple toes, followed by a high triple twist, sassy footwork and sharp spins. Their throw triple flip was cleanly landed, and despite some trouble hanging on to a death spiral, they earned 65.80 points.
"I think tonight it felt really good to go out and have a lot of fun with the performance," Marley, 16, said. "We came into nationals very prepared, and it was nice going into the short knowing we could let loose and take one thing at a time."
It hasn't been an easy road for Marley, who had no pairs experience when she teamed up with Brubaker in the summer of 2010, or for her partner, who contemplated retirement after he and McLaughlin failed to qualify for the 2010 Olympic team and subsequently split.
"After the last trials and what happened, it was a tough experience," Brubaker, 25, said. "I did contemplate whether I should look for a new partner. The thought of starting over was not fun, but I'm glad I stayed with it. It's a testament that if you work hard, good things will come."
Jenni Meno, who with husband Todd Sand trains the pair in Aliso Viejo, gives Marley high marks for making a fast transition to pairs.
"We've worked a lot on their performance level the last few months," said Meno, who herself switched from singles to pairs back in the late 1980s. "I told Mary Beth, 'Last year, you showed people you were a great skater. This year, you're a beautiful skater.'
"It's a little harder to [switch to pairs] with the new judging system. Regardless of what happens in the long, she's done a great job, and week by week she'll keep getting better."
The two teams favored for the title each made costly errors. Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig performed a lovely program to Gershwin's "Man I Love," including a solid triple twist, clean throw triple loop and four Level 4 elements, but Evora fell on a triple toe loop that was downgraded by the technical panel. They earned 61.27 points.
"There were a lot of things we were happy with in the program. Of course I was disappointed with the triple toe," Evora said. "The best I can say is I had a moment of relapse. After, all I could think of was Scott Hamilton saying to me, 'When you fall, all you can do is get back up,' so I got into the program again and everything else was good, I think with plus GOE."
"For the free skate, it will be chins up, go for it, and a few other expressions I could use that aren't as polite," Ladwig said. "It's a sport: You got to go out there and dig deep and slug it home."
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, who opened their East of Eden program with a gasp-inducing triple twist and strong side-by-side triple toes, seemed well on their way to a clean skate before Denney's crash landing on a throw triple flip. They bring 60.88 points into the free skate.
Coughlin, who won this title last season with Caitlin Yankowskas, and Denney, the 2010 U.S. pairs champion with Jeremy Barrett, are making their first appearance together at a U.S. Championships.
"I think it was just a little excitement from both of us, trying to make it huge and perfect," Coughlin said. "We were rolling along so well. It felt great otherwise."
"It's a very unusual mistake and it's very unexpected," Sappenfield said. "I thought once they landed their toes, they were home free. She never makes that kind of mistake on a throw. Once she got off the ice, she said she didn't check hard enough; she almost kind of let her guard down. Otherwise, I thought everything else was good."
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir of Boston had a clean, powerful program to music from The Phantom of the Opera that earned 60.56 points, just 0.32 out of third place.
Another Boston-based team, Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff, had a near-flawless and supremely elegant skate to music from La Boheme, highlighted by side-by-side triple toes and a huge throw triple Salchow. They are fifth with 57.77 points.