Not only did it look easy, it was easy.
Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett blew away the competition to win the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships Senior Pairs Saturday afternoon at the Arena.
“It felt like we were just on autopilot out there,” Denney said. “It was so much fun I can’t even describe how awesome it felt out there.”
At that moment, the thought that a spot of the U.S. Olympic team went with the gold medal didn’t compute.
“We trained for this program so much and once we got out there we let our bodies take over,” Barrett said. “It was a great experience.”
Their score, 190.30, was almost 17 points clear of runners-up Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, who were just .6 ahead of Rena Inoue and John Baldwin.
It was a forgone conclusion that Denney, 16, and Barrett, 25, would be the first Floridians to compete in the Winter Olympics, but their exclusivity didn’t last long when Evora, 25, and Ladwig, 29, were selected to join them.
“I feel like all the credit and all the accomplishments we’ve had so quickly has been, plain and simple, hard work and determination,” Denney said.
She and Barrett started skating together in 2006 but Barrett moved to Colorado with his mother and sister before returning to Florida because they missed his father. The skaters reunited in 2008 and were second at nationals last year.
“Ever since the first day Caydee and I skated together things just felt great,” Barrett said. “We knew we had the possibility, but we still had to put the hard work in.”
It all paid off on Saturday.
“After each element we were trying real hard to stay calm, which was not easy, especially towards the end,” Barrett said. “After that last throw we have two easy elements, we had to make sure we stayed calm and executed everything. At the end we just let it all go.”
Denney was especially demonstrative.
“It feels awesome, I can’t believe it,” she said. “We celebrated, just enjoyed the moment.”
Evora and Ladwig were pleased with their performance, even if it wasn’t as powerful as Denney and Barrett.
“We were close, small errors,” Ladwig said. “I messed up a double toe. I know I can do that better. I was really proud we got credit for all our jumps today.
They also earned 9.15 for a lift late in the program.
“There aren’t many elements in pairs you can get nine points on,” Ladwig said. “Caydee and Jeremy got an 8.15. For me that’s a personal achievement.”
“I know our program wasn’t clean, but at least what I tried to bring out in our skating is hope and humility,” Evora said. “What I mean by that is it’s not supernatural to go out there and do what we do. We are humans, too. It’s OK to make mistakes, it’s learning how to keep going to never give up. I feel like we have done that.”
Two-time champions Inoue and Baldwin started the long program in fourth, a point behind Evora and Ladwig, and Baldwin was sure he and Inoue would pass them en route to a second Olympics.
“I’m shocked,” said Baldwin after their eighth-straight top-three finish. “It’s not like we got any downgrades. I don’t know, the judges do what they want to do.
“We’re content with our skating. To put out a program like that and not get rewarded for it, it’s a little discouraging, especially because we did the triple axel. We didn’t have to do that. We did that for the audience, we did that for figure skating and we did that for the viewership. We did it for the fans so they’ll keep coming back to watch. I don’t think that’s how you should thank us.”
The triple axel throw has a base score of 8.25 – and they earned a 9.8 at an international competition in Paris – but they were downgraded to a 7.82.
Inoue, 33, all but said it was their last competition and later Baldwin, 36, said they could finally plan their marriage, probably later this summer.
Caitlin Yankowskas, 19, and John Couglin, 24, who were a solid second after the short program, dropped to sixth.
“It’s hard to put a finger on any one thing,” Couglin said. “We’re still new at this pairs scene. … Everybody that medaled today skated their heart out. We’re going to go back home, reflect and get back to work.”