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Brubaker, Davis hop on U.S. pairs' roller coaster

Seasoned competitors working toward common goal

Thanks in part to coaches Marina Zoueva and Johnny Johns, Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker have come a long way in a short time.
Thanks in part to coaches Marina Zoueva and Johnny Johns, Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker have come a long way in a short time. (Jacque Tiegs)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/01/2013) - Rockne Brubaker is back in the game, fighting for a U.S. Olympic pairs spot.

The two-time U.S. pairs champion and his partner of four months, Lindsay Davis, skated their way to a solid third-place showing in a competitive field at Skate Detroit last week.

Davis is Brubaker's third partner in five seasons.

"The last few years have been quite a roller coaster for me," Brubaker, 27, said. "It's taught me a lot. Not only the successes but also the failures have helped me get comfortable and encouraged me to keep working hard. I mean, not much more can happen."

Brubaker might not want to tempt fate. At the start of the 2009-10 season, he and Keauna McLaughlin were favored to win their third U.S. title and a spot on the 2010 Olympic team. Instead, they placed fifth at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Despite a silver medal at the 2010 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, the partnership ended in June 2010.

In August 2010, Brubaker teamed with Mary Beth Marley, a 15-year-old with no pairs experience. They won silver at the 2012 U.S. Championships and placed 10th in the world that season. Marley, troubled by an eating disorder, took a break from the sport in August 2012. Brubaker tried out with two-time U.S. silver medalist Amanda Evora, but geographical differences prevented that partnership from happening.

Early this year, the roller coaster took Brubaker to Canton, Mich., where younger brother Collin and his partner, Alissandra Aronow, train in ice dance under Marina Zoueva and Johnny Johns. When Davis and Mark Ladwig ended their partnership after the 2013 U.S. Championships, a tryout with Davis was arranged. Brubaker and Davis teamed up in April and stayed on in the rink, best known for being home to the world's top ice dance teams.

"I'm originally from Chicago, and it's a four-hour drive [from Canton]," Brubaker said. "We jump in the car and head back home as many weekends as possible. My family, all of my brothers and sisters, is very close."

In February, Brubaker and Stefania Berton, Italy's European pairs bronze medalist (with Ondrej Hotarek), announced their engagement. Berton trains at the Detroit Skating Club, about a 45-minute drive from Canton.

"Working with [Zoueva and Johns], with all of the experience they have, is getting us far along in the shortest amount of time," Davis, 21, said. "Training with the ice dancers is so motivating. We see how they push themselves every single day."

"We couldn't be in a better situation," Brubaker said. "We love working with Johnny Johns; he's a great technician. He always says, 'I'm the meat and potatoes, Marina is the visionary.'"

Davis and Brubaker weren't yet in top gear at Skate Detroit. They need more practice miles on their triple twist, they said, and they didn't attempt all Level 4 lifts, as they plan to later this season. But they hit side-by-side triple Salchows and two different triple throws, and all of their lifts worked.

Most important, they looked comfortable together.

"We are definitely making good progress," Davis said. "For us, the biggest thing is finding each other's rhythm. We watered down the elements at Skate Detroit (in terms of levels) to get connected. We put the triple twist out in the long."

"Marina has a philosophical approach on what you need to do, each day," Brubaker said. "It's very organized; we have weekly and monthly goals. Her approach helps explain how her athletes do so well.

"By the time we get to Oberstdorf [for the Nebelhorn Trophy, in September] and certainly Skate Canada, we will have the levels," he continued. "We are working on the triple twist and the reverse lasso combination lift. It's a process."

They are developing a solid friendship off the ice as well.

"We're two adults training together for a common goal, which is nice," Brubaker said. "I feel we're ahead of schedule for the year, which gives me confidence."

Zoueva, who coached the legendary Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov to the second of their two Olympic titles, agrees.

"Coaching them is very easy, because they put all of their soul, their energy, into the sport," Zoueva said. "It is not an easy sport, and they have made a full commitment to it. They both want it."

Both of their programs have a romantic vibe. Their short, set to "Petite Fleur," was choreographed by Zoueva.

"I brought this music to their tryout," Zoueva said. "They caught the style right away. Later, they said, 'We love the music we had for the tryout,' and to use it for the short."

Renée Roca choreographed a free skate for Marley and Brubaker to Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Davis and Brubaker have kept the music this season.

"Now, it's a very different program. We are two adults, and we're telling a different story," Brubaker said. "It's gotten a lot of positive feedback."

The week after Skate Detroit, the skaters headed to California for additional work with Roca. While there, they will also practice with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, the three-time U.S. pairs champions who coached them with previous partners.

With the 2014 U.S. Championships a little more than five months away, Davis and Brubaker have to get real good, real fast. There are two U.S. Olympic pairs berths, and the field is deeper than it has been in years. At Skate Detroit, U.S. bronze medalists Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay beat them by 10 points in the free. Not in the field were reigning U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, 2012 U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin and last season's U.S. silver medalists, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim.

"We're going to fight and give it our all for an Olympic berth," Davis said.

Hochstein wins Skate Detroit men's free

Grant Hochstein, who landed his first-ever quad in the short program at Skate Detroit, continued his winning ways with his free skate.

The 23-year-old skater didn't land another quad, but he did rotate his two attempts and land a triple Axel in his free to selections from Rachmaninoff and Dvorak. He also hit a triple Lutz-double toe and four other triples to score 134.86 points.

"I'm at a good point for this time of the season," Hochstein said. "I got a bit tired too early in the program, but it's different [training] at home versus doing it in competition.

"I wanted to carry through on the level of my short but not dwell on it," he continued. "It was not my best, but I think I got my third-highest long program score and my second-highest overall score here."

Together with his short program, Hochstein notched a total score of 214.75, outpacing the field by more than 20 points.

"Grant landed a quad toe-triple toe in the warm-up, which proves his landing it in the short was no fluke," the skater's coach, Peter Oppegard, said. "He is in tremendous physical condition. He skated the free a bit tight, but after falling on one of the quads, he didn't panic. He willed himself back into the program."

Canadians dominate ladies' free skate final

In the senior ladies free skate, two young Canadians -- national silver medalist Gabrielle Daleman, 15, and bronze medalist Alaine Chartrand, 17 -- finished atop the standings.

The speedy Daleman gained 104.93 points for a free to Borodin's "Polovtsian Dances" that included a triple Lutz-triple toe (under-rotated) and triple flip-double toe-double toe combination. Although a double Axel-triple toe was downgraded, she also landed a triple loop and triple Salchow.

Skating to music from Dr. Zhivago, Chartrand showed a triple Lutz-half loop-triple Salchow and charming steps to "Sventyski's Waltz," but she fell on a triple "Rippon" loop and had two of her triples downgraded. She earned 98.50 points.

U.S. junior silver medalist Mariah Bell opened her Titanic free with a solid triple Lutz but fell on three other triples to place third with 90.22 points.

"I committed to every single jump, whether I fell or landed it," Bell, 17, said. "Just competing as a senior is a big step up for me."

"It's a process," Bell's coach, Cindy Sullivan, said. "She landed double Axel-triple toe at Broadmoor [Open] and now has put it out there again."

Sullivan said Bell will compete her junior free skate at the Cup of Colorado in August and will depart for Junior Grand Prix Mexico on Sept. 2.

The new Canadian team of Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau landed two triple throws and won the junior pairs free skate with 88.84 points.