SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Caydee Denney and John Coughlin kept their winning "streak" intact. After winning the previous two years with other partners, Denney and Coughlin won their first pairs title together Sunday at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. They finished with 189.70 points, beating the short program winners from the Chicago suburbs, Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker, by almost 4 points. Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, runners-up the last two years, dropped to third with a flawed free skate.
"I really made it a goal for myself, a personal goal, to just go out there and do the best that I could no matter what happens," Denney said. "I'm glad I achieved that goal."
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Marley and Brubaker got off to a rough start. Brubaker, who is from Algonquin, is a four-time U.S. champion with other partners (two titles each in juniors and seniors) and has always been the better half.
But he made uncharacteristic errors, falling on their side-by-side triple toes and turning out of their side-by-side double axels. And their pairs spin was simply awful, so out of unison they may as well have been skating in separate events.
But they pulled it together, and made up ground with their difficult lifts. He raised Marley with only one arm on one lift, a move that takes incredible strength and balance to pull off while moving across a sheet of unforgiving ice. On another, he carried the Downers Grove resident while gliding on one skate.
"All things considered, skating last with everything on the line, for us to come through and show up and pull out a silver medal was great," Brubaker said of the pair, in their second season together. "Our goal was to make the world team this year and we achieved our goal."
Denney and Coughlin had won the last two U.S. titles, each with a different partner. They teamed up in May and, even in a sport where couples have all the stability of Jell-O, their matchup came just three weeks after Coughlin and Caitlin Yankowskas finished sixth at the world championships.
Clearly, though, Denney and Coughlin knew what they were doing. As good as each other was with someone else, they're that much better together. Their performance Sunday was spectacular, one of the best of the entire week in any discipline, any event.
And they give the Americans hope that they might finally have found someone who can end the long international medal drought in pairs skating. Not only have the Americans failed to win a world or Olympic medal since 2002, they haven't even been relevant. No U.S. pair has managed a top-five finish in a non-Olympic year since Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen in 1997, and the Americans failed to qualify for last month's Grand Prix final, a six-team field.
But Denney and Coughlin showed they have the tough tricks to match the world's other top couples -- yes, even the Germans -- doing effortless side-by-side triple toe loops and a beautiful throw triple loop. Their triple twist was so huge she seemed lucky not to bang her head on the Jumbotron, getting the kind of hang time usually reserved for the Chinese.
And despite skating together for less than nine months, Denney and Coughlin have a presence it usually takes years to develop. They got stronger as the program went on, matching their power and emotion to the build of the music, culminating the performance with a spectacular carry lift that alone was the worth the price of admission.
Coughlin carried Denney three-quarters of the way around the rink, and did it with such speed and strength she looked as light as a feather pillow. Midway through, she switched positions, turning in the opposite direction of the way he was skating.
You know how tough it is to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time? Try that, times 10.
"I've been dreaming all week about doing that carry after skating clean and that feeling from the audience," Coughlin said. "Oh, I had so much fun."
When their music stopped, the 18-year-old Denney jumped up and down like a little kid, shaking her fists. Coughlin stood at center ice, beaming, looking as if he couldn't quite believe what they had just done. Finally he turned and pumped his fists in triumph.
They celebrated again when they saw their scores. But after finishing third in the short program, had to wait for Evora-Ladwig and Marley-Brubaker to skate to see if it would hold up.
Good thing Jeremy Abbott was the final skater.
There was no way anyone could have topped this performance.
Needing only to stay on his feet to win his third title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Abbott performed with a quiet elegance and superior skill that was simply bewitching. The audience was so spellbound you could hear his blades carving the ice, and it wasn't until the final notes of his music faded that fans erupted in applause.
Abbott finished with a personal-best 273.58 points, a score that puts him within striking distance of world champion Patrick Chan. It is 12 points better than 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko scored in winning his seventh European title Saturday.
Adam Rippon, a two-time junior world champion, was second.
Ross Miner finished third for a second straight year.