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Denney, Barrett win pairs competition

Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett weren’t even skating together two years ago. Now they’re U.S. champions.

And on their way to the Vancouver Olympics.

Denney and Barrett skated a high-energy, action-packed program to “Sheherazade” on Saturday that was not only worthy of the title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but also ought to make the rest of the world take note. The Olympic team hasn’t officially been named yet, but there’s no question these two belong.

Denney and Barrett finished with 190.30 points, almost 17 points in front of Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig. Rena Inoue and John Baldwin landed their signature throw triple axel and placed third.

“It feels awesome,” Denney said.

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, meanwhile, are on the bubble after yet another flawed performance. They are in fifth place and can only hope the selection committee takes their history – and promise – into account.

“We really made it a lot harder for them than we wanted it to be,” Brubaker said.

Added McLaughlin, “It’s like a sucker punch in the stomach.”

It wasn’t so long ago that McLaughlin and Brubaker were the Whiz Kids, upstarts who had surprisingly quick success and endless potential.

But Denney and Barrett have left them in the dust.

The Floridians skated together briefly in the summer of 2006 before Denney moved to Colorado with her mom and sister. But they missed Denney’s father, who had stayed in Florida, and returned home when the separation got to be too much. With Barrett still without a partner, the two reunited in the summer of 2008.

Now, it takes most pairs teams years to develop the seamless chemistry and unison required of a world-class team. But Denney and Barrett have been on the accelerated program. They were the surprise silver medalists at last year’s nationals, then finished an impressive ninth at their first world championships.

With another year together, they just might stir things up in Vancouver.

What makes Denney and Barrett so impressive is their power and strength. Their program was jam-packed from the opening notes of their music, with not even a second to take it easy. He was clearly exhausted when they finished – you try skating the length of the ice while carrying someone with one hand – but she looked ready to go again, hopping up and down on the ice and sprinting a few steps.

They did side-by-side triple toe loop jumps and two double axels in sequence, and knocked them out as easily as a bunny hop. And man, can they fly. There are speedskaters who couldn’t keep with these two, as they raced around the ice with grace and control.

Judy Blumberg, who won the first U.S. Olympic medal in ice dance with partner Michael Seibert, worked with Denney and Barrett on their “Sheherazade” program (she skated to it herself), and her influence showed. They had fine edge quality and their connection with each other could be seen way up in the rafters.

When they finished, Denney crossed herself and then punched the air, her smile lighting up the entire arena. Coach Jim Peterson was overcome with emotion at the boards, burying his head in another coach’s shoulder.

McLaughlin and Brubaker, winners of the last two U.S. titles, needed a fantastic performance Saturday to ensure themselves a spot in Vancouver.

That didn’t happen.

Parts of their program were dazzling and showed why hopes have been so high for them. Their first lift was almost like performance art, with him looking as if he was bench-pressing her while she was in a pose that would make yoga teachers envious.

But she singled the second jump in their side-by-side triple toe-double toe combination, botched the landing of their last lift and then two-footed their final throw. One mistake wouldn’t have been catastrophic. The three together, plus their disappointing short program, might be too much for the U.S. Figure Skating officials to overlook.

“Sometimes things don’t always work out the way you’d like them to,” Brubaker said. “And we’re young. We never thought about doing just one Olympics.”