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Caydee Denney & John Coughlin Look to Nationals

 by Alexandra Stevenson

(26 December 2013)

Because this is the Olympic season, and nationals are much earlier than usual, skaters lose out on the holiday festivities, but that is generally not a problem. Skaters do not reach the elite status of nationals without a lot of dedication, and an attitude which puts the sport first, ahead of any other desire or even consideration.

John Coughlin and partner, Caydee Denney, are the 2012 U.S. pair champions, who started skating together in May of 2011 after success with previous partners.

In the U.S. championships in Boston, they will be performing their Short Program, set to music from Puccini’s immortal opera, “Tosca” on Wednesday, January 9 and their Free, to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” on Friday, January 11. Both pieces are dramatic, and the duo plan to skate up to the power of musical pieces.

Coughlin’s father is a Police Officer in Kansas City. He lost his mother in 2010. Denney’s parents are roller skating professionals, Bryan & Dee Dee, who took part in national and world championships. (Bryan was third in the mens 1984 World Roller Figure Skating Championship.)

Denney, and her younger sister, Haven, began their competitive careers on rollers in a rink near their home in Ocala, Florida. Caydee swapped over to Blades when she was nine, after being mesmerized by watching on television Tara Lipinski’s Olympic gold medal winning performance. Haven is also a pair skater. She and partner, Brandon Frazier, are the reigning world junior pair champions and were the 2012 U.S. Junior Pair champions.

This season Haven & Brandon took part in their first Senior Grand Prix events, in Canada and the NHK in Japan, in which they placed fifth in both events. They are looking forward to measuring their progress against Caydee & John. Earlier in the year they had a unique chance to train in Coral Springs, FL, for a couple of weeks with four-time world champions, Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy, an experience, they said, which was inspirational and uncomparable.

Caydee’s partner, John, previously competed 2007-2011 with Caitlin Yankowskas, who had moved from her home in New Hampshire in the summer of 2007 to Colorado Springs. Yankowskas and Coughlin won the 2011 U.S. pair championship, after being only sixth the year before. In their debut at the world championships, in 2011, they finished sixth. However, they split up soon afterwards.

This season, Yankowskas competed with Briton Hamish Gaman in the British pairs championship finishing third in a field of three-pairs. Although they skated with good lines, grace and promise, they were light on the elements, which was disappointing because only the top two will be entered in the European championships. (Many time British champions, Stacey Kemp & David King, were second to the new paring of Amani Fancy and her French partner, Christopher Boyadji.) Neither new couple is eligible for the Olympic Games since one partner is not British. So Kemp & King will once again represent the country.

Denney gained the 2010 U.S. title skating with Jeremy Barrett, after taking silver the year before. They subsequently placed 13th in the Vancouver Olympic Games, and then 7th in the world championships a short time afterwards. But in 2011, they were only third nationally. Worse still, while practicing for the Four Continents Championships, Denney accidentally sliced Barrett’s right leg calf muscle while practicing side-by-side jumps, which put an end to the partnership.

Denney & Coughlin’s focus is on regaining their title won in 2012, which they were not able to defend because he had to have surgery to repair a hip injury. He’s not over-fond of having to go through all the details of that experience, except to say they were “very fortunate. Of course, our goal is the Olympic team. It’s great that Caydee has already had experience in going to the Games.”

Coughlin did concede that they were pretty devastated by that 2012 injury. “We were tearing through our season with medals at both of the Grand Prix events. We were alternates for the Grand Prix Final and really had all the momentum in the world. As we were training full run-throughs I noticed a little bit of discomfort, so over the weekend we went to the Olympic training centre. Thankfully, they accurately diagnosed it as a torn labrum. I had surgery quickly - at the Steadman Clinic in Vail that same day, so it was kind of a whirlwind process.

“It, of course, destroyed our hopes of keeping our national title and doing better at Worlds. I had time to do some thinking. ‘Why are we really skating?’ We realized that we want to go to the Olympics together, so we took care of the injury, so we could go full steam ahead for the Olympic year."

The 6’2” Coughlin, who is originally from Kansas City, has been based in Colorado Springs for most of his career. He is hungry to get the title back. “I think most athletes in any other year would go home for Christmas because the U.S. championships are generally toward the end of January. But to have them start just a few days after the New Year begins, makes it a little more challenging, particularly for the pairs and ice dancers.

“For the singles skaters the situation is not so bad because they can go home and probably still get ice time there. I’m sure Ashley (Wagner), Adam (Rippon) and Jeremy (Abbott) could go to their hometown and get time at the local rink without too much of a problem. Ice is ice! But, for a dance or a pair team, you need your partner there, and that becomes a little trickier if you are not from the exact same city.”

Instead, Coughlin and Denney had family members come to them. Denney’s mother had been in Colorado prior to Christmas but went home to Florida.

Denney explained, “We probably won’t skate Christmas Day but that doesn’t mean we won’t work out. We'll probably go to a hot yoga class, and then have dinner. We'll enjoy the day off but then we have to run through our long program the next morning. Dalilah is somewhat of a slave driver but it’s a policy we both agree with.”

Coughlin started skating at age 5 because his sister was already skating and it looked like fun. He is a part-time Operations Specialist at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He can often be seen helping other Broadmoor pair skaters off ice with their lifts. He also volunteers by reading to children on "Dr. Seuss Day," spending time with kids at the local children's hospital in Colorado Springs and working with a Girl Scout troop.

He was asked about the team event. “Yes, we're well aware of it. It's something that's been circled on all of our schedules since they unveiled it. It's something that we've always envied in gymnastics. They have the Olympic individual champion, and then you see the team gold medal. From an athlete perspective, it's another chance to win a medal and be part of a team, which is why Caydee and I enjoy being pair skaters.

“To think that, on top of the feeling of having the United States behind you at the Olympic Games, you will actually have all of your teammates cheering you on, even though some of them may think of you as competitors, - having them root for you is something that we can't even imagine. We're excited to, hopefully, be part of it!”

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