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Denney, Coughlin play musical pairs, win U.S. title

Marley and Brubaker grab silver; Evora and Ladwig settle for bronze

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin cemented their new partnership by soaring from third to first.
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin cemented their new partnership by soaring from third to first. (Tom Briglia)

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(01/29/2012) - Caydee Denney and John Coughlin recovered from a disappointing short program with a clean, powerful free skate that gave them their first U.S. title together.

"I've been dreaming all week about doing that [final] carry lift after skating clean and getting that feeling from the audience," Coughlin, 26, said. "I had so much fun."

The Colorado Springs-based skaters made a little bit of history, becoming the first U.S. pairs champions to have split with former partners, teamed up and then won the U.S. title together. Coughlin is the first man in U.S. Figure Skating history to win back-to-back titles with different partners.

They earned the crown with an athletic program to an acoustic version of "Nessun Dorma" that opened with a thrilling high triple twist. The hits just kept on coming: big throw triple loop, solid triple toes and a double Axel-double Axel sequence.

Although the team gained just Level 1 on the death spiral, Denney nailed the landing of the throw triple flip -- the element she fell on in the short -- and they finished strong with a Level 4 carry lift with a stunning drop-out exit, reminiscent of three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand. They earned 128.82 in the free for 189.70 overall at the U.S. Championships.

"We had a blast; Caydee landed that [throw triple] flip," Coughlin said. "We wanted it so bad after the short, and I smiled really big and she looked at me and said, 'Stay focused.' I said, 'Yes, ma'am.'"

"I really made it a goal for myself, a personal goal, to just go out there and do the best that I could no matter what happens," Denney, 18, said. "I'm glad I achieved that goal."

Denney won the 2010 U.S. title with Jeremy Barrett, who retired after the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Coughlin won the 2011 U.S. title with Caitlin Yankowskas.

Coughlin and Denney's teaming, just weeks after he and Yankowskas placed sixth at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships, set off the oft-heard refrain that U.S. pairs teams split up much too fast and far too frequently. But this U.S. title, won just nine or 10 months after they began training under coach Dalilah Sappenfield, should help quell criticism.

Silver went to Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, who led after the short. Although Brubaker had an uncharacteristic fall on a triple toe and also turned out of a double Axel, his 16-year-old partner landed both of her triple throws, including a throw triple Salchow done at the 4:14 mark. They placed second in the free and second overall with 186.07.

"All things considered, skating last with everything on the line, for us to come through and show up and pull out a silver medal was great," said the 25-year-old Brubaker, who won two U.S. titles with former partner Keauna McLaughlin. "Our goal was to make the world team this year and we achieved our goal. It was a good fight, a few little bobbles here and there, but it was good."

"I thought we fought really hard," said Marley, who has only skated pairs since last August. "The program was how we've been practicing; it really just all flowed together."

It was disappointment for Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, the popular two-time U.S. silver medalists competing in their 10th U.S. championships.

Although they showed the finest lifts of the competition as well as a Level 3 triple twist, the veteran pair lost ground when Evora turned out of the landing of a throw triple Lutz and fell on a double Axel. They placed third in the free and third overall with 178.98 points.

"In the beginning, I could tell we were a little off and shaky but halfway through the program, right after the death spiral, we were back in unison again and organized so we could kind of slow down our breathing," Evora said.

"It was interesting because today we came with the attitude of really just enjoying ourselves out there and even though we had mistakes, I feel as though we had a good time out there," she said.

"In the end, I thought we came off with some great lifts; Amanda swished the throw loop," Ladwig said.

Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff, the elegant team from Skating Club of Boston, took fourth place with a program highlighted by huge triple throws and Donlan's graceful lift positions.

"I think earlier this year, around August, we decided to really take a look at how we were preparing for things," Speroff said. "I think we've always liked kind of flying under the radar and just not really having too many expectations, just wanting to skate our best and focusing on the process and not the outcome."

Donlan and Speroff's training partners in Boston, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, took fifth with 168.81 points.