Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker are almost full circle. At the 2007 U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash., McLaughlin and Brubaker were stellar in the junior pairs competition, as they had been on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, winning the national title with relative ease.
Now in 2010, favorites McLaughlin and Brubaker are headed back to Spokane for the U.S. Championships with eyes firmly set on a third senior title, and better yet, a spot on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. The pair won their first U.S. Championship with a thrilling performance in 2008 and narrowly escaped with the gold medal the following year.
This year’s nationals “is like any other competition, you can’t look past it, you gotta look at what’s going on at that moment,” Brubaker said. “It’s been a challenge because for the last six months, everyone’s been talking to us about Vancouver and the Winter Olympics and we go along with it all and say we’re excited, but in the back of our minds we’re saying, ‘We still have to go to national championships first.’ But that’s kind of part of what being an athlete is about. It makes it a little more exciting when you can go to nationals in an Olympic year.”
McLaughlin and Brubaker have squeezed in Olympic fanfare, like endorsement deals with Coca-Cola, Nike and Proctor and Gamble and television apperances, between competition and training. In their first season with legendary pairs coach John Nicks, who replaced Dalilah Sappenfield last year, they placed third at Rostelecom Cup and fourth at Skate America.
The pairs short program kicks off at 1:30 p.m. local time on Friday with the free skate starting at 11:05 a.m. Saturday. Following the free skate’s conclusion around 3 p.m., the announcement of the two-teams selected to represent the United States at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, is expected.
• Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett won the short program at the 2009 U.S. Championships en route to a silver medal, only six months into their partnership. At 2009 World Championships, they were the highest ranked American pair, taking ninth. Denney and Barrett finished fourth at 2009 NHK Trophy and later fifth at Skate Canada.
• Two-time U.S. champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, the 2009 national bronze medalists who are also a couple off the ice, are eying a second consecutive trip to the Olympic Winter Games. At the 2006 Olympics, they became the first pair in history to land a throw triple Axel in international competition. They were fourth at 2009 Trophee Eric Bompard and third at NHK Trophy.
• Former U.S. Champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, third at nationals in 2008 and fifth last year, won their national title in Spokane but have since struggled with injuries. They were 11th at the 2008 World Championships but did not compete internationally again until 2009 Nebelhorn Trophy, where they were fourth. They placed sixth at 2009 Skate America.
• Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig won their second national pewter medal at the 2009 U.S. Championships with a stellar free skate that moved Evora to tears. They were also fourth in 2007 and fifth in 2008. On this season’s Grand Prix, Evora and Ladwig were seventh at Cup of China and fifth at Skate America.
• Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin broke through internationally this season with a win at the Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria. With Coughlin struggling from an injury at Skate Canada in November, the team finished seventh. Yankowskas and Coughlin were sixth at the 2008 U.S. Championships and seventh in 2009.
• Chloe Katz and Joseph Lynch withdrew in December after Katz broke her ankle in training. Katz and Lynch recently won the silver medal at the Ice Challenge and also won a silver medal at last year’s Coupe de Nice, marking their first international medal. They were sixth at the 2009 U.S. Championships.
• Jessica Rose Paetsch and Drew Meekins, who qualified to nationals with a third place showing at November’s Midwestern Sectional Championships, ended their partnership recently due to Paetsch’s personal reasons. They were 10th at last year’s nationals.
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