Forgive Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker if they’re a little giddy about skating in Spokane.
They departed the 2007 U.S. Figure Skating Championships here as the Junior Pairs champions in their first year together.
They step on the ice at the Arena this weekend as two-time defending senior champions, favorites to grab gold en route to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver next month.
“I can’t wait to go back there,” said McLaughlin, who has family driving over from Seattle. “I think it’s kind of cool that we did start off our career there as juniors and we had a great experience. … I’m excited to see the turnout with the Olympic hype.”
And that wasn’t even the pinnacle of a first season because they won every competition they entered including the World Juniors, only the fourth Americans to win that title.
“I think sometimes it’s hard to put a name or label on certain things,” Brubaker said of their chemistry. “When Keauna and I started skating together in the spring of 2006, in the first 5, 10 minutes of skating we knew there was something about it.”
From there it was senior gold in 2008, when they became the first pair to win consecutive junior and senior championships in 51 years, and 2009.
After the first senior gold they couldn’t compete at the worlds because McLaughlin, now 17, was too young for seniors and Brubaker, 23, was too old for juniors.
When they skated in worlds last season in Los Angeles they finished 11th.
“We wanted to compete better,” Brubaker said. “We should have been better prepared. We learned a lot about ourselves.”
They made a drastic change, going to renowned coach John Nicks.
“Dalilah (Sappenfield) is a very good technical coach,” McLaughlin said. “With Mr. Nicks, he’s taking more of a mental aspect with us.”
Recently they finished third at Skate America and have been focused on fine-tuning their program.
McLaughlin has been doing jumping drills, in which she has to land three jumps in a row or start over, and working with a sports psychologist.
“You can always mentally better yourself,” she said. “For me it’s never really a technical problem … it’s all mental for me. I know I can do it so I work with the psychologist to help me build the confidence to believe in myself to be able to do it when it counts.”
Brubaker’s individual work is different.
“It’s not same type of drills,” he said. “I’ve been learning to jump smaller; working on more technique … doing it at a slower speed. When you jump slower it requires you to be much more technical. For me, with speed it’s always been easier.
“When I go to do a jump in a program, sometimes I want it too bad … I try too hard. When I make a mistake on jumps it’s not anything technical, it’s just me trying too hard.”