Photos copyright 2009 by George S. Rossano
The surprise leaders after the pairs’ short program are 15 year-old Caydee Denney and 24 year-old Jeremy Barrett. Executing a level 2 triple twist, side-by-side triple toes, a beautiful throw triple flip, and a level 4 star lift, the duo received positive GOEs on all eight elements from the nine judges, except for three -1s, each on a different element. Their technical score of 36.58 was the highest of the event, with a total segment score of 61.51. Coached by Jim Peterson, Lyndon Johnson, and Alison Smith, the pair skated together briefly in the summer of 2006 before Denney moved from Florida to Colorado to pursue her singles career. When she returned to Florida last summer, they reteamed, quickly earning an international assignment to Nebelhorn Trophy, where they placed 4th. Denney’s younger sister, Haven, placed second earlier this week in Novice Pairs with partner Daniel Raad, while rinkmates Tracy Tanovich and Michael Chau won Junior Pairs on Friday. Denney is age-eligible for Four Continents and Senior Worlds by just one week.
2008 U.S. Champions and 2007 World Junior Champions Keauna McLaughlin, 16, and Rockne Brubaker, 22, earned the highest program components of the event, but step outs on the landings of their side-by-side triple Salchows (him) and throw triple loop (her) resulted in negative GOEs for those elements. Their technical score was the fourth highest of the event, with a combined total of 61.12 leaving them just 0.3 behind the leaders. McLaughlin is suffering from a bad cold and the program overall was slightly tight and less aggressive than usual. Their triple twist was called level 3, one of only two level 3 triple twist of the event, and received all +1 and +2 GOEs. In addition, their level 4 star lift and level four pair spin received +1s and +2s from every judge, except for one -1 on the pair spin. Four of their five program components averaged in the low 7s, with transitions averaging 6.89.
Only 0.01 behind McLaughlin and Brubaker are 2004 and 2006 U.S. Champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, with a total score of 61.11. The veterans of the event at ages 32 and 35 respectively, they incorporated a triple twist (level 1) into their short program for the first time, but received negative GOEs. Their side-by-side double Axels, although of a lower base value than the side-by-side triples performed by other top teams, were in perfect unison with excellent flow on the landings, and received GOEs of +1 and +2. With the exception of the twist and one -1 on their pair spin, the duo earned only base mark and positive GOEs. Both their program components and their technical score were the second highest of the event. With the top three teams separated by only 0.4, the long program – and the two coveted spots on the World Team – are up for grabs in the long program.
Caitlin Yankowskas, 18, and John Coughlin, 23, nabbed the last spot in the final warm-up by placing fourth with a total segment score of 56.06. They executed side-by-side triple Salchows and a throw triple Salchow that received positive GOEs, including two +2. Except for their triple twist, called level 1, and their death spiral, called level 3, all of their other elements earned level 4. Their technical score was the 4th highest of the evening, but their program components were only 7th highest. Yankowskas and Coughlin appeared thrilled with their performance, skating one of the only clean short program performances.
Brooke Castile and Benjamin Okolski, the 2007 U.S. Champions, had not competed internationally this year due to her nagging foot injuries. They opened their programs with side-by-side triple Salchows, a new element for them, but Castile was unable to hold the landing of hers and fell, incurring a 1.0 deduction for the fall. Their triple twist, called level 1, was successfully completed, but she was also unable to hold the landing of their throw triple Salchow, stepping out. Their side-by-side combination spin had good unison, and their death spiral had a nice position; both elements were called level 3. Their other two elements, the spiral sequence and pair combination spin, were called level 4. The program components for the duo, skating to "The Chairman’s Waltz" from Memoirs of a Geisha, were the fourth highest of the event, but they placed fifth in this segment with a score of 54.46.
Placing sixth with a total score of 52.98 were Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, training partners of Denney and Barrett. Ladwig fell on the landing of his side-by-side triple Salchow, but the jumps were credited with the full rotation rather than being downgraded, a problem that has plagued this team in the past. Their death spiral, pair combination spin, lift, and spiral sequence were all called level 4. Their solo combination spin, called level 3, received -2 GOEs. Due to a misprint in the newest edition of the ISU Rulebook, which arrived this week, Evora and Ladwig were informed at the last minute that they needed to include a camel position in their solo spins. When they attempted the difficult forward sit-back camel transition, both wobbled, resulting in negative GOEs. As it turns out, the ISU Rulebook is incorrect, and the pairs are not required to include all three basic positions in their short program spins, which the singles skaters are required to do.
Chloe Katz and Joseph Lynch, who placed eighth last year, were 7th in tonight’s short program. They skated a clean performance, including side-by-side double Axels, a throw triple Salchow, and a nicely executed double twist, called level 2. Their other elements were called level 4, except for their death spiral, called level 3, and they received mostly base mark GOEs, with a few +1s and -1s mixed in. Their segment score of 52.06 reflected a solid performance.
Last year’s pewter medalists, Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent, found themselves in 8th place with a segment score of 51.16 after Trent’s triple toe, which was two-footed, was downgraded to a double, earning both the base mark of a double toe and a GOE reduction, a double hit. Their double twist, called level 3, was high and clean, with positive GOEs from all nine judges. Vise and Trent’s spiral sequence was called level 1, possibly because they did not hold an unsupported spiral for three seconds or were not in a spiral position on each foot for three sequences. Skaters who commit those errors are automatically punished with a level 1 for failing to fulfill the requirements of the short program, which include a change of foot and a spiral position with the leg unsupported by the hands. The duo, in the sixth year of their partnership, were rewarded by the audience with a hardy round of applause, in recognition of the high quality of their elements.
The top eight pairs will skate in the final session of the long program on Saturday. The remaining eleven pairs will skate in the morning session, intersected by one group of Championship Dance competitors. This unusual schedule is to accommodate NBC’s live broadcast.
MeeRan Trombley and Laureano Ibarra placed 9th in the short program, completing the second level 3 triple twist of the event. Their pair spin was also called level 3, but their other elements were level 4, including an impressive star lift that covered the length of the arena. A small mistake on the landing of the throw triple Salchow and a single Axel by Trombley limited their technical score, with an overall segment score of 48.63.
A new team from the Broadmoor, Jessica Rose Paetsch and Drew Meekins, earned 47.67 points to land in 10th place. Both won U.S. National titles at the Junior level with other partners; Paetsch’s was just last year, with Jon Nuss, who is no longer skating. The newbies executed difficult elements with some small mistakes, earning negative GOEs on their triple twist, throw triple Salchow, and side-by-side triple Salchows. Their other elements, called level 3 or 4, earned mostly base marks.
Another new team found themselves in 11th place with 45.87 points. Alex Merritt, a Championship Pairs competitor last year with Katie Beriau, is now skating with 16 year-old Lindsay Davis. Davis, in her first year skating pairs, qualified to compete in both Championship Pairs and Novice Ladies, in which she finished 9th. With a nice double twist, called level 2, and a good throw triple Salchow, they doubled their side-by-side Salchows. Their spins, both of which were called level 4, were very nice.
Laura Lepzinski and Ethan Burgess, a second year team, finished in 12th place with 45.09 points after both fell on their side-by-side triple Salchows, which were downgraded. A high triple twist with a clean catch was the highlight of their program, which also featured a level 4 lift, pair combination spin, solo combination spin, and spiral sequence.
Right behind them with 44.63 points were Chelsi Guillen and Danny Curzon. After Castile and Okolski withdrew from Cup of China, this Arizona-based team took their place. Tonight, they skated a clean short program with a double twist, side-by-side double Axels, and a throw triple toe, but most of their elements received negative GOEs from the judges. They received level 3 or 4s on all of their elements except the death spiral, called level 1, and twist, called level 2.
John Baldwin’s younger (31) brother Don Baldwin made his maiden appearance in Championship Pairs, skating with Jennifer Brunn (18), who is also new to pairs. They skated admirably for such a new team, completing a level 4 double twist, the only one of the event, and nice pair elements. A fall on their throw triple Salchow and a small miscue on the landing of their side-by-side double Axels earned negative GOEs from the judges, along with a deduction for the fall, for a total score of 43.35.
In 15th place was Bianca Butler and Joseph Jacobson, who have skated together since Juvenile Pairs. They earned 42.73 points for a performance that included a level 4 lift and a nice pair combination spin. They fell on side-by-side double Axels that were downgraded, and she stepped out of the landing of their throw triple Salchow.
Stephanie Kuban and Steven Elefante placed 16th with 42.25 points. They completed a nice double twist, called level 3, and a level 4 death spiral, along with a nice level 4 lift. Their side-by-side triple toes earned negative GOEs from several judges, and a fall on their throw triple loop resulted in both -3 GOEs from the judges and deduction for the fall. Their technical score was actually the 15th highest of the event, but the fall deduction moved them down a place in the standings.
In their first year as Seniors, Lisa Moore and Justin Gaumond earned 38.60 points to place 17th. Although they attempted a triple twist, throw triple loop, and side-by-side double Axels, the Axels were downgraded and every element received negative GOEs from the judges, with the exception of a lovely level 4 star lift.
With 38.31 points, Kendra Moyle and Steven Pottenger were the only team to have an element receive zero points when she failed to leave the ice on their side-by-side triple Salchow attempts, resulting in a call of Salchow, no rotation. They completed a triple twist and two level 4 elements, a star lift and a spiral sequence, but a fall on their throw triple Salchow reduced their scores and left them in 18th place.
Andrea Best and Trevor Young provided the most frightening moment of the event, when both fell hard on their lift. Best hit the ice with her forearm first; her face bounced against it, while her side slammed the ice. Amazingly, they continued their program, executing a huge throw triple Salchow with a step out, along with a level 4 pair combination spin. Combined with a fall on their side-by-side triple toes, the team received 3.00 deductions. The crowd, knowledgeable about skating, showered the duo with a standing ovation at the end of their performance. Coach Johnny Johns later reported that Best was significantly bruised, but nothing was broken. Best and Young hope to skate the long program if her condition permits.
(Full report, 2/3/09.)
The pairs skated in two groups, separated by a group of Senior Dance, in order to accommodate NBC's broadcast schedule. The top eight teams, which skated in the late afternoon, included three former Senior National Champions (McLaughlin/Brubaker, Castile/Okolski, & Inoue/Baldwin), two former Senior Pewter medalists (Evora/Ladwig & Vise/Trent), as well as newcomers (Denney/Barrett, the surprise leaders after the short program at their first Nationals together & Yankowsas/Coughlin in their second season) and veterans (Katz/Lynch in their eight season), providing tension and intrigue. The other eleven teams skated earlier in the morning and provided their own share of drama, some riveting and some of the "please don't kill her" variety. Five lifts – out of the bottom six teams – failed to go up, the most in recent memory. Six of the nineteen teams were coached or co-coached by Delilah Sappenfield, also an unofficial recent record.
Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, who are co-coached by Delilah Sappenfield and Keauna's mother Lei'Ina McLaughlin, won their second straight Senior National title – and third straight, including their 2007 Junior title. In three trips to Nationals, this team has never finished lower than first. Their reign was nearly interrupted this year, however, and their victory was secured by the highest Program Components of the event. They finished the competition with 178.76 points after earning 117.64 in their free skate. Keauna, who was batting a serious cold, is a tough cookie, completing two secure throw triples, Salchow and loop, each of which earned +1 or +2 GOEs from every judge. Their triple twist, called Level 3, received one +3 GOE – as well as one base mark GOE. Each of their three lifts received Level 4 with positive or base mark GOEs; in addition, their two spin elements (solo and pair combination spin) were called Level 4. Their step sequence was Level 3, as was their back outside death spiral, which was one of only three executed in the Senior Pair event. Although outside death spirals carry a higher base value than inside death spirals, the position required by the woman in order to receive "features" towards a higher level is considerably more difficult to obtain in outside death spirals. In addition to these well-executed elements, McLaughlin and Brubaker had mistakes on their jump elements, as Brubaker singled the second part of their planned triple Salchow-double combination jump, and McLaughlin fell on their side-by-side triple toes. Their Program Components ranged from 6.75 to 8.25, averaging in the low 7s. Although this is their second Senior National title, it will be McLaughlin and Brubaker's first trip to Senior Worlds; last year, she was too young for Senior ISU Championships and he was too old for Junior ISU Championships. In case this young team, nominated by many as the Great American Pairs Hope, needed more pressure on them, Worlds will be held in McLaughlin's hometown of Los Angeles.
In their first Nationals together, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett finished second in the free skate (114.76) and second overall (176.27). Although many in the audience felt that this new team deserved to win, Denney and Barrett appeared thrilled to make the World team in their first full season together. Their technical elements were textbook. They also completed a Level 3 triple twist that received +1 and +2 GOEs. Their two solo jump elements – a triple toe-double toe sequence and double Axels – had excellent unison and tracking. Both of their throws, a triple loop and triple flip, were solid. In addition, they completed four Level 4 elements: a Group 5 Axel lasso lift, a Group 3 lift, another Group 5 lift, and their solo spins. Their step sequence was called Level 3, while their pair spin received "only" Level 2. The duo skated with confidence and sureness, and their technical ability was never in doubt. Their Program Components ranged from 5.75 to 8.00 and averaged in the high 6s, with Skating Skills and Performance/Execution in the low 7s.
As the final standings were posted after Denney and
Barrett concluded the Senior Pairs' Event, many in the audience booed when
the duo moved into second place behind McLaughlin and Brubaker. Although
Denney and Barrett's program was cleaner – and they deserved higher
technical marks than McLaughlin and Brubaker, which they received –
their ability to project to the audience, relate to each other, and
express the attitude/theme of their music was not as strong as McLaughlin
and Brubaker, who were also somewhat more powerful. In the opinion of this
reporter, McLaughlin and Brubaker deserved higher PCS, while Denney and
Barrett deserved higher TES, and the final placements were the result of
the math. Either way, the United States has two young teams with strong
technical and presentation skills, and it will be a treat to watch both
Another of Delilah Sappenfield's teams, Caitlin
Yankowskas and John Coughlin, fell to 7th overall (153.67 points) with
their 8th place free skate (97.58) after finishing fourth in the short
program. They opened with an impressive Level 4 Group 4 lift that covered
3/4 of the ice surface and included a carry. They received all positive
GOEs for this lift, including one +3 from Roger Glenn, judge #5. Their
next four elements, however, all received negative GOEs: a Level 1 triple
twist, a side-by-side triple toe-single toe combination, an attempted
double Axel in which Coughlin waxeled and lost control, and a throw triple
Salchow with a stepout. At that point, they appeared to regroup and
completed a Level 4 Group 5 Axel lasso lift, throw triple loop, Level 3
Group 5 lift and step sequence, and Level 4 death spiral, pair combination
spin, and solo spin. In a deep field, however, the early mistakes were
(Earlier quick summary, 1/30/09.)
After placing second in the Short Program, the reigning National Champions Keauna McLaughlin & Rockne Brubaker climbed back atop the podium with a victory in the Free Skate driven home by Program Component scores well above those of their nearest rivals.
Most of their elements were well executed, though three were scored negative. Their excellent opening triple twist was called level three and scored with GoEs from zero through three. On triple Salchow - double toe loop Brubaker singled the toe loop, so the team got dinged for unequal rotation. A group four lift followed with GoEs of zero through two. On triple toe loops McLaughlin then fell. After that the program was basically clean, except for poor unison on side-by-side spins that resulted in a few minus one GoEs. Their elements were called levels three and four and overall they were scored second best in elements, 0.69 points behind Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett.
McLaughlin & Brubaker performance to "West Side Story" was typical WSS choreography; capable, but nothing special or original. They skated well to the music and told the story, as have an uncountable hoard of skaters before them. Their Program Component scores were in the mid sevens, with a range of 6.50 to 8.25 We saw nothing to justify world champion marks (8+) for this performance, but then those marks were more the exception than the rule. Many in the arena were surprised at the end of the event when they were announced as the winners, thinking they had not quite completed enough to overtake Denney & Barrett's lead from the Short Program, but their high component marks put them over the top.
Assessing their performance, McLaughlin said, "I'm really happy with the program. I thought we definitely gave it everything we got to get through it." Remarked Burbaker, " I think what's hard for us is the skating and the choreography and the transitions that we are trying to add in between those elements I think is what makes it more difficult."
Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett skated last giving them the advantage of knowing exactly what they had to deliver to win (and the judges all the information they needed, to know exactly what marks they had to give to make that happen, or not).
Skating to "Spartacus," Denney & Barrett gave a technically secure performance with only a few minor glitches. They received only a few random GoEs of minus one, and only on their step sequence did they get enough of them (three) to make the element be scored negative (Denney had a minor stumble in the element). Their best element was the opening triple twist, called at level three, and scored with GoEs of plus one and two. The no-jump elements were all called level three or four.
Like all overused pieces of music, there was nothing new or original, just your typical pretty movements to pretty music approach. But it works, and their component marks averaged around seven, which was about a half point each below those of McLaughlin & Brubaker, with interpretation nearly a full point lower than the champions (6.68 vs. 7.50).
After their skate, Denny remarked, "I thought, well first is great but second is like wow, that's awesome, I still can't believe it." And from Barrett, "We didn't have any expectations coming into nationals, so to skate two programs that we thought were pretty good and to finish second is fantastic. We're happy with how we did. I think we fought for everything."
Rena Inoue & John Baldwin started off with three consecutive errors and then pulled their performance together. On triple toe loops, both skaters stepped out of the landing, and the jump was downgraded. This was followed by triple twist (level one) which had no real catch to speak of, and that was followed by a double Axel - double Axel sequence in which Baldwin stepped out of the second jump. The remainder of their elements were clean but undistinguished, except for two nice throws, the best of which was a throw triple loop. The team did not attempt throw triple Axel, an element they have not landed cleanly for a long time, and instead threw a nice triple Salchow for the second throw element -- a good strategic choice. Overall their elements were scored fifth best of the group. Skating to music from "Beethoven's Last Night" Inoue & Baldwin gave a capable but uninspiring performance, which received respectable marks that averaged around seven, with individual component marks ranging from 6.25 through 7.50.
Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig, who placed sixth in the Short Program, pulled up to fourth overall, with a fourth place result in the Free Skate. Skating to the Pas de Duex from "The Nutcracker," they gave a slightly flawed performance with two major errors, but also some nicely executed aspects. On side-by-side triple Salchows, Ladwig's jump was under-rotated and Evora may have two footed the landing (we have no access to video replay to verify). A double Axel sequence was also downgraded, and it again appears that Evora may have two footed the landing. The other elements, however, were all clean, with no negative GoEs. Their lifts were particularly well done. The weak link in this performance was their solo jumping elements. Their performance had some nicely dramatic moments to it, but also included some sections where the team was hiding behind the music and not really expressing it. Their component marks averaged around 6.5 except for transitions which were scored at near six. The judges were not of one mind for this performance, with a spread of individual component marks ranging from 5.25 through 8.00. Some loved it, as did the audience, and some were lukewarm about it.
The Pairs event (along with the Dance event) was divided into two groups; the morning 'we think you have no chance of medalling and could not care less about you group' and the afternoon 'NBC thinks your good enough to show to the world group.'
It is hard enough for judges to maintain consistent judgment over the course of an event. Breaking the event in this way only compounds the problem, and destroys the concept of a level playing field. And to what end? To make it a little easier for NBC to schedule a broadcast. Not a good reason to screw over the skaters in our view.
Look over the results for the Free Skate and you will notice a few things. 17 out of 19 teams changed place between the Short Program and the Free Skate, but not one team in the morning session placed ahead of a team in the afternoon session in the Free Skate. Not One! For TES, the average difference in score from one team to the next is about 1.3 for both the morning group and the evening group, but between the morning group to the evening group there is a jump of nearly 8 points. In PCS, there is nearly a 6 point jump from the morning group to the afternoon group. Marking the skaters in two groups at different times of the day seems to have resulted in two different scoring standards being applied in this event. This is a fundamentally unfair approach to competition, and no amount TV logic changes that fact.
2009 Pairs Medallists
Evora & Ladwig, Denney & Barrett, McLaughlin & Brubaker, Inoue & Baldwin