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Pairs champs McLaughlin-Brubaker in 7th -- and trouble

January 15, 2010 |  5:11 pm

Two-time U.S. pairs champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker may need a big rally to make the Olympic team after a disastrous performance in Friday afternoon's short program as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships opened at Spokane Arena.

McLaughlin fell on a triple jump and, stunningly, on a move called a death spiral, which gave the pair no points on that element.

They finished seventh in the short program, 10.46 points behind leaders Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, 9.54 behind the surprise second-place team, Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, and 6.21 behind the third finishers, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig.

The free skate is Saturday afternoon.

Having won the last two U.S. titles, McLaughlin and Brubaker can earn one of the two spots on the 2010 Olympic team as long as they do not have another major failure in the free skate. U.S. Figure Skating rules use nationals as only one of the selection criteria for picking the Olympic team.

"After the mistake on the triple salchow (the third element of eight in the program), things got real tentative, and when you don't stay real aggressive, things can get off,'' said Brubaker. "After that, there were mistakes here and there.

"That's part of sport. There's no reason to dwell on it. We know we can come out and skate really well tomorrow.'' 

Asked if he feared not making the Olympic team, Brubaker said, "You can't skate afraid. When you skate afraid like we did today, you make mistakes.''

Their coach, John A.W. Nicks, was surprised and disappointed.

"They are the best pair out there, I have no doubt about that,'' Nicks said, "but they have got to go out and lay down [perform] what they can lay down. They didn't today.''

-- Philip Hersh