Thursday, January 07, 2010

U.S. Nationals Preview (Pairs)

The first senior competition that will get underway in Spokane is the Pairs event. The U.S. has the opportunity to send two teams to the Olympics in Vancouver. Who are the teams to keep an eye on? Here are my thoughts on six teams to watch:

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin - I'm always completely impressed with this team every time I see them. They have dynamic lifts and a wonderful connection with the audience. Caitlin is one of those skaters whom you can't take your eyes off of when she's on the ice. Some inconsistency has plagued them off and on. If they hit their elements they'll have a shot at the podium and possibly a trip to Vancouver. Their most recent competition, 2009 HomeSense Skate Canada, they finished 7th.

Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski - The last time this team competed in Spokane they surprised everyone by winning the 2007 National crown. This team has beautiful classic pair lines and great attention to choreography but often struggles in the technical department. This is the first season since their 2007 Nationals win that they enter the event healthy. The last two years they entered Nationals coming off of injury. They reached the top before...can they do it again? They recently finished 6th at 2009 Cancer.Net Skate America.

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig - One of the teams that seems stuck in that 4th-5th-6th range at U.S. Nationals. Beautiful artistry but again, some troubles often on the technical elements. When this team is on they can be spectacular. Their lifts are some of the most inventive and spectacular to watch. They just missed the podium last year and will need a big effort to make it this season and an even bigger effort to make the Olympic Team. They recently finished 7th at Samsung Anycall Cup of China and 5th at Cancer.Net Skate America.

Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett - This team made a splash last season coming seemingly from nowhere to take the silver medal at Nationals (and desperately close to winning). They followed it up with stunning performances at both the Four Continents Cup and the World Championships solidifying themselves as the hot new team to watch. At both their Grand Prix events this season they continued to demonstrate solid technical skills and also showed improved artistic sensibility. Their ability to skate clean under pressure makes them one of (if not the) the teams to beat. This team was 4th at NHK Trophy and 5th at HomseSense Skate Canada.

Rena Inoue and John Baldwin - The veterans of the field and the only team competing in Spokane with previous Olympic experience (7th in Torino). This team has a secret weapon in their back pocket...the throw triple axel. They successfully completed the element this season at Trophee Eric Bompard. What has held this team back is consistency on the side-by-side triple jumps, especially on John's part. The lack of consistency on that element has caused them to put side-by-side double axels in their short program which puts them at a point disadvantage. If they can find consistency on their side-by-side triple jumps they'll be in good shape. They finished 4th at Trophee Eric Bompard and won the bronze medal at NHK Trophy.

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker - This team barely squeaked out a defense of their National Title last season and have had trouble getting back to gold standard form sense. At last season's World Championships they actually finished behind Denney and Barrett. Over the summer they made a coaching change and made the move from Colorado Springs to L.A. to train with John Nicks (also coaching Sasha Cohen). John has a knack with pairs skaters, turning out several champions in the past. They have a unique free skate (Slumdog Millionaire) that has left me a bit cold this season. If they can find a way to be more engaging with the audience and choreography with their music and improve upon the technical issues that have plagued them this season, they should have no problem making it to Vancouver. If the mistakes could get dicey. This team won the bronze in their season opener at Rostelecom Cup but was just 4th at Skate America.

I make a point of not predicting Nationals but I'm curious to get your opinion on how you see things playing out. Comment below!


jumping clapping man said...

i really wonder what happened with McBru. it was like the fire was gone from their skating. i still say it was jilted love.

i'm all for denney/barrett...they excite me every time they skate. i haven't seen enough of McBru this season to know how that head-to-head will go.

my wish list:
denney & barrett
castile & okolski

the reality (sound familiar?):
denney & barrett
inoue & baldwin

Robin Agnew said...

I would really like to see Inoue & Baldwin OFF the podium - they have just been around too long and John is not as good a skater as his partner. That said I am a big fan of McLaughlin & Brubaker but I also agree, their program this year has seemed off. I liked last year's much better. I also am pulling for Castile & Okolski - when they're good they're really terrific.

Aaron said...

I'm so divided and split. I love them all for different reasons. Also, I think all of them (except Rena and John) will more than likely stick around after this season.


I can say, definitively, I have become a huge fan and supporter of Denney and Barrett so I definitely want to see them go to Vancouver.

Whoever can bring the goods I would like to see go, whichever team it is.

nashvilledancer said...

I adore Evora and Ladwig, especially their lifts and the amazing line and stretch from both of them. Sure hope they can land on the podium (and not just pewter) this year.

Fully expect the consistent Denney & Barrett to be on that Olympic team; for the rest, it depends on what they hit and what they splat. But hopefully everyone will skate clean. I'll be there and pairs is scary to watch live!

Sharon said...

I love McBru and I think they are going to come out strong here. I like what John Nicks said, that when things got rough for them, they stayed committed to their partnership and looked for a way to get back on track. I see great things for this pair, hopefully they can start getting back on track by winning here again. Even if they don't medal at Olympics (which isn't likely for any US pair), the experience will be great for the next Olympics where hopefully they WILL be medal contenders.

Pair skating fan said...

Pairs! I could write a book. I love pairs.

McLaughlin/Brubaker should win this... with mistakes... even if someone else goes clean. It's pretty clear that they have the highest scoring potential of the US pairs. I hope that the US judges reward the quality of their SP like the Intl judges have... They were the only US team this season to surpass 60 pts, or even 55 pts for that matter, without even skating it clean.

As consistent as Denney/Barrett are, they have not scored very well internationally on the Grand Prix this season. They need more polish/finish on just about everything, and more complexity within their programs. Their loss to Inoue&Baldwin (neither team was clean) this season was telling. I hope and believe they will beat I/B at Nationals (Baldwin gets on my nerves, and they fall behind technically), but D/B will not start scoring well internationally without more polish. The judges have sent the message this season that it's not enough to just land the 4 big tricks on your feet. D/B's enthusiasm and competitiveness is pretty awesome, but if I'm going to really look at their skating, I just can't warm up to them. They barely broke 100 pts for a nearly clean long at Skate Canada!

I think some people are a little too critical of McBru at this point. They are very young and are in a discipline where instant Intl success doesn't really happen. Pair skating is too hard nowadays to expect a 2nd-year Sr team to coast through every season. Their "rough season" last year included a Natl title and 2 GP medals, which would not be considered a "rough season" for any other US pair.

M&B were way off at '09 Worlds, but they have been the only American pair (and young pair worldwide) to consistently win medals on the Grand Prix. And they are the only American pair that has legit been well received recently by the judges... They have some of the stuff that you can't teach. Their SP this season really shows off some of that true polish/line that is a rarity among US pairs. I don't love their LP, and think it may be a little too challenging for them, but it's workable for this year. They just haven't looked comfortable with it yet, and the lack of music without vocals on the Slumdog soundtrack doesn't help. But I think their element consistency will improve as time goes on. For now, I'm just enjoying some of the detail they have that other teams don't-- Beautiful air positions in lifts... He sets her down in the triple twist on one foot... Truly nice body line... Stuff like that. Can you tell that I love them and their potential? :)

So my predictions are the same as last year... 1. M/B 2. D/B 3. I/B. The others haven't really shown much to convince me they are ready to break into the top 2 or 3. Evora/Ladwig are a crowd favorite at Natls, but they just don't have good enough scoring potential to really factor in.

Aaron said...

Pair skating fan, you make some fantastic points about McBru that is so easy for many of us to overlook. I guess I too see their potential and I think inside I always expect more of teams that have more to give.

You are absolutely correct..."Their "rough season" last year included a Natl title and 2 GP medals, which would not be considered a "rough season" for any other US pair."...SO TRUE!

Okay, you've convinced me!