Brubaker remains hopeful amid partner search

Two-time U.S. pairs champion still itches to compete, believes he can make Olympic team

Rockne Brubaker has not given up hope of competing at the Olympic Games.
Rockne Brubaker has not given up hope of competing at the Olympic Games. (Tom Briglia)


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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to
(01/31/2013) - Rockne Brubaker and his former partner, Mary Beth Marley, looked to be on the fast track to the top of the U.S. pairs heap last spring.

After winning silver at the 2012 U.S. Championships, taking the bronze at the 2012 Four Continents Championships and finishing 10th at the 2012 World Championships, they had the makings of a team with staying power, but their momentum came to an unexpected halt in August, when Marley abruptly retired from skating.

For Brubaker, it came as a shock.

"I could tell that she was having some trouble, but being a pair girl is a very hard job, the hardest job," he said by telephone Tuesday. "We were in a position where there was going to be some pressure, so some of the things were going to be harder, and pairs was still relatively new to her."

Left partnerless less than two weeks before the deadline to register for the 2012-13 season, Brubaker hastily arranged a tryout with Amanda Evora. Ultimately, both skaters were unwilling to commit to a partnership under such tight time pressure.

"It was kind of a rush, trying to scramble to get it all together," Brubaker said. "A part of me thought I should wait and see what the following year brings. I didn't feel comfortable rushing into anything."

Brubaker is willing to explore all options in his quest to compete for a spot on the 2014 Olympic team; he says he would consider either a singles skater or a pairs skater as a partner.

He went into the 2010 U.S. Championships as the two-time reigning champion with then partner Keauna McLaughlin, but unexpected stumbles kept them off the team for Vancouver. He knows that making the team this time will be tough, given the short time available, but he is confident it can be done.

"It just takes dedication, the determination to buckle down and start working," he said. "I feel like I've never had the opportunity to really grow as a pair team. Something always happens, and I've had to start over. I'd like the opportunity to be with someone and develop it and see what we could accomplish. I believe longevity is one of the keys to successful pairs."

Brubaker, a dramatic, powerful and graceful skater, is looking for someone who can complement his own style of skating. He says he's hoping to find a skater with a lot of eye-catching presence on the ice, as well as a skill set that matches his own.

"The strong teams, the best in the world, when they go out on the ice, you're usually watching the girl," he said. "Even when they've never done pairs before, when we start skating around and tracking each other, you kind of get a sense of what it may or may not be like. You really don't know until you step on the ice and take the other person's hand."

Brubaker has made some changes during his enforced break from full training. He recently moved back home to Chicago from Los Angeles, where he had worked with John Nicks, Todd Sand and Jenni Meno. He is considering training in Canton, Mich., and he has been working with Johnny Johns and Marina Zoueva as he searches for a partner.

"I miss Todd and Jenni and Mr. Nicks," he said. "It was an honor and amazing to work with them, but being close to home is what I want and need to do now. It's where I would like to be, but I know that in the short amount of time, being in Canton would be giving ourselves the best opportunities."

Brubaker's brother, Collin, trains in Canton, where he is an ice dancer with partner Alissandra Aronow. Rockne went to Omaha last week to support Collin, and he also did some commentary with Jimmy Santee in the in-arena earbug.

"I really came to watch my brother," Brubaker said. "He's my best friend and he's been my biggest supporter through all of these times. Any time we've been at nationals, we always room together. I could tell that he wanted me to be there, so I really went for him, to support him, help out, keep things comfortable.

"I enjoyed [watching the pairs], but at the same time, it was really hard to sit there," he continued. "I feel like I'm good enough to be out there contending for the title."

Brubaker says that after he and Marley split up, he got a lot of support from coaches, officials and other skaters.

"Everyone seems to be trying to find me a partner," he said. "Which makes me feel really good. This fall, to be honest, I wasn't sure I was going to try again. It's like, sometimes you should take the hint. Sometimes you do all the right things and it still doesn't work out.

"I don't want to stop trying, and I feel like if I found the right partner, the right mindset and determination, I know that we could be good enough to put ourselves in the position of making the Olympic team."