The great thing about National championships is that you get a chance to see not only the best the country has to offer, but all of those who will some day be the best. For many skaters, just competing at Nationals is the best the season will get. Qualifying is a victory. Skating well, a testament to hard work. And when they have sensational results to go with it, we get to see the purest, most fulfilling joy skating can bring – not based on expectations or lofty goals, but simply in a dream achieved.
With that in mind, let us take time for round two of my Nationals preview, the pairs competition.
Pairs is a discipline that hasn’t been the strongest point in American skating for, well, quite some time. That said, there have been some highlights, and I have a feeling this year’s field could be one of them. First of all, as before, we’ll look at the skaters I feel are top contenders.
- Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett
- Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig
- Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin
I think, for the most part, the podium should be between these three teams. Don’t get me wrong, there are others who could break up the party, such as Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth, and Brittany Simpson and Nathan Miller. But the fact is, the top three teams are the top three for a reason – they have the most to offer.
Caydee and Jeremy are obviously coming in with the biggest target on their backs, being the reigning Champs. They’ve made some changes in their skating this year, most noticeably by moving to train with John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana, but I’ve got to say, I have yet to see the complete package from them. Perhaps they’ve timed it perfectly, and they’ll peak in Greensboro. If they do, I have a feeling their programs will bring the house down. Caydee’s energy is electric, and while their programs have a more muted tone to them this year, the emotional value is still just as strong. They have a way of reaching the audience, and that’s not something you can teach. If they hit their elements, they have a good chance at gold, once again.
Nipping at their heals, though, are two teams hungry to prove their own national worth. Amanda Evora (who is recently engaged to Jeremy Barrett – congrats to them!) and Mark Ladwig have been the tortoise in the national rankings – slow and steady, but poised to win the race. They, two, have made some changes this season. Most noticeable to me is their newfound confidence, and renewed determination. They want to represent the country internationally, and they’re out to do whatever they can to give themselves that chance. What they have that is stronger than anyone else is belief in themselves. It got them on the Olympic team, and this year, the programs they’ve put together have the potential to claim top honors.
Not to be overlooked, however, is the dark horse team of Caitlin and John. I’m personally a big fan of the previous two teams, but I have to say, Caitlin and John have captivated me this season. They bring a spark to the ice – a calm under pressure, an elegance and poise – and they have charming personalities to boot. They make you want them to succeed…and that I do! They actually had pretty impressive success on the Grand Prix series this year, finishing 3rd and 4th at their two events, and I truly believe they’ll give Caydee/Jeremy and Amanda/Mark a run for their money.
It’s anyone’s game and it will all come down to which team puts out two programs, back to back.
Don’t eliminate the possibility of one of the other three teams I mentioned breaking things up a bit, however.
And even with the tight competition that is sure to come for the podium, I may be even more excited by the return to competition by two skaters I’ve loved for a while now – Rockne Brubaker and Themi Leftheris.
Both guys are returning with different partners than they last skated with. Themi, having skated with Naomi Nari Nam in her attempted return to competition, has just never quite found the right pieces. He’s skating this year with Lindsay Davis, and while I don’t expect a gold medal performance out of them, I’m excited to see what they have to offer. I wish them the best.
The same can be said for Rockne and his new partner, Mary Beth Marley. Rockne most notably skated with Keauna McLaughlin in a bid for the Olympic team. After an extreme disappointment at Nationals last year, Keauna took a break from skating, leaving Rockne in a starting-over position. And he’s done just that, with Mary Beth, who is new to pairs skating all together. But don’t let that fool you – they want to bring their A-game in Greensboro, and they want to compete for a medal. For them, just making it to the Coliseum isn’t quite enough.
Pulling a team together so quickly isn’t entirely new for Rockne – he and Keauna weren’t together long before their first National title. Rockne and Mary Beth competed today for the first time internationally, and put up a respectable 56.51 in their short. Comparatively, Caydee and Jeremy have the highest SP score for the American’s this season with a 58.49. Rockne and Mary Beth’s score puts them 3rd on the list of SP scores by American teams this season. Not bad, eh? So if we’re looking for a team to play spoiler, don’t count out these two. They’re hungry. And they’re talented. And it’s Nationals – anything can happen!
As with the men, I’d love to know your picks for the Pairs event. Who will it be for gold, silver and bronze?