It didn’t take long to upset the apple cart at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
With two-time defending champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker tumbling to seventh, the standings from the Senior Pairs short program at the Arena Friday afternoon have a different look than was expected.
There are still a lot of familiar names, topped by Floridians Caydee Denney, 16, and Jeremy Barrett, 25, who were second to McLaughlin and Brubaker last year, with a score of 63.01 points, their best short program by 1½ points.
“We’re confident,” Barrett said. “We feel confident with our long program. Obviously, we’d like to be the first Floridians to go to the Winter Games.”
The winner after today’s long program earns one of two spots on the U.S. Olympic team for next month’s Winter Games in Vancouver.
The surprise among the leaders is the unheralded pair of Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, sixth and seventh in their first two nationals together, with 62.09 points for second place.
“It’s a thrill so far,” said Yankowskas, 19, who is from New Hampshire and trains in Colorado. “We know we’re only halfway there; we’re trying to soak it in.”
Couglin, 24, from Kansas City, Mo., interjected, “Maybe a third of the way, that long program is pretty long. We’re going to soak this up for a couple of minutes and get back to work.”
The long program, which starts at 11 a.m., counts for two-thirds of the total score.
Sitting third at 58.76 are Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, who were fourth last year, as well as at the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane.
The next two teams are also familiar, two-time champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin with 57.77 and Brooke Castille and Benjamin Okolski, the champions in 2007, with 55.32.
McLaughlin and Brubaker were the Junior champions the last time they were here but have their work cut out for them. McLaughlin fell on her triple salchow and caught her heel on the death spiral with the result of 52.55 points and seventh place.
“There’s no reason to dwell on it,” Brubaker said. “We know we can come out and skate really well tomorrow and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
After the shocking performance from McLaughlin-Brubaker, skating ninth of the 16 pairs, Yankowskas and Coughlin, up 15th, brought the Arena crowd of 6,164 back to life.
“This is a special town,” said Coughlin, who was ninth in 2007 with a different partner. “I remember being here a couple of years ago. It just feels so warm. As soon as we get go on the ice you want to give them something they can get behind because you know they are going to cheer for you.”
The previous best short program score for Yankowskas and Coughlin was 59.51.
“It’s a direct result of training so much smarter this year than we did last year,” Coughlin said. “Credit coaches Dalilah (Sappenfield) and Laureano (Ibarra).
“As Dalilah said so bluntly yesterday, this year the difference in us is maturity, which I told everyone was code for we were immature last year. Being mature, I think you can handle that pressure and almost enjoy the process.”
The pair got together in 2008 but interact like they’ve been together much longer.
“We stressed staying in the moment this year, not thinking too far ahead,” Coughlin said. “I thought ‘moment’ right before we started. Each thing just kind of happened and I didn’t really realize we were skating clean until we were in our pairs spin right before the end.
Caitlin says, ‘Toes?’ asking if I landed it and I go, ‘Yeah.’ And she goes …,” as Yankowskas chimed in, “Sweet.”
When asked about the game plan for the long program, Yankowskas started, “We’ve been training to have moments so we’re going to focus drawing in the crowd.”
“Stringing moments together,” Coughlin said.
“We hope everyone skates well and makes the judges’ job extremely hard,” Ladwig said.