McLaughlin, Brubaker aim for repeat in Cleveland

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne BrubakerThe current U.S. Champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker missed their chance to compete at the World Championships last season because McLaughlin was too young. But McLaughlin saw the upside of sitting out the 2008 Worlds—a chance to make her Worlds debut before a hometown crowd in Los Angeles.

“Knowing that we can make our World Championship debut in Los Angeles, where my family and friends could see us compete, that does give me extra motivation,” McLaughlin said. “It would be really special to skate in Los Angeles with my dad watching.”

The top two teams at the 2009 U.S. Championships, Jan. 18-25, will represent the United States at the Worlds. The pairs short program is Thursday and the free skates are Saturday.

McLaughlin and Brubaker, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs student, are the favorites not only to win a second consecutive national title in Cleveland, but also to medal at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

“We are taking it one competition at a time. Right now, we’re focused on skating strong programs at nationals,” Brubaker said. “But I do think of the Olympics every day. We want to be national champions, we want to be World Champions but the ultimate goal for us has always been to win a medal for our country at the Olympics.”

No American pair has won an Olympic medal since 1988.

“Rockne and I are getting stronger with every competition that we are in,” McLaughlin said. “If we keep training as hard as we do, I think we can win an Olympic medal someday. I think we have everything it takes to be up there with the best pairs.”

The team has never finished off the podium in their three-season partnership. Among the highlights are winning gold at the 2006 Junior Grand Prix Final and the 2007 World Junior Championships; silver at the 2007 Cup of China, the 2007 NHK Trophy and the 2008 Skate America; and bronze at 2008 Skate Canada.

To become two-time U.S. Champions, McLaughlin and Brubaker have to contend with two-time U.S. Champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin and 2007 gold medalists Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski. At the 2008 Worlds, the pairs finished 10th and 11th respectively.

Inoue and Baldwin won silver at the last two U.S. Championships. On this season’s Grand Prix circuit, they finished fifth at Skate America and second at the NHK Trophy. Castile and Okolski, the current Four Continents bronze medalists, sat out all three competitions they were assigned to in the fall because of an injury.

Other pairs vying for the medals are last year’s pewter medalists Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent who were fifth at Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard; 2007 pewter medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, who were seventh at Skate Canada and fourth at Cup of China; last year’s sixth place finishers Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, who were sixth at Skate America; and last year’s eighth place finishers Chloe Katz and Joseph Lynch, second at Coupe de Nice.

The junior silver medalists and bronze medalists from the 2008 U.S. Championships will make their senior national debuts in Cleveland. Bianca Butler and Joseph Jacobsen were third at the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships. Chelsi Guillen and Danny Curzon were seventh at Cup of China.

For the first time since the 2003 U.S. Championships, the ice dancing champions will not be 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. Their quest for a sixth straight national championship ended because of Agosto’s back injury.

The favorites are Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who have experienced unprecedented success since their sixth place finish at the 2008 Worlds. At Skate Canada, their first Grand Prix event of the season, the University of Michigan students took the gold medal in a convincing fashion. They followed that performance with bronze medals at the Cup of China and the Grand Prix Final.

Reigning World Junior Champions Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, who were fourth at the national championships last season, are also contending for the championship. Samuelson and Bates finished first at the fall’s Nebelhorn Trophy, fourth at Skate America and third at NHK Trophy, giving them a successful senior international debut.

Other teams in the hunt for a medal include reigning bronze medalists Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, who finished fifth at Skate Canada and sixth at the NHK Trophy; last year’s fifth-place finishers Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev, who finished seventh at Skate Canada and eighth at Trophee Eric Bompard; and last year’s sixth place finishers Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles, who were seventh in their Grand Prix debut at Skate America.

The original dance is Thursday with the free dance Saturday.

Although they are not skating, Belbin and Agosto have petitioned for a spot on the World team despite missing nationals and withdrawing from December’s Grand Prix Final after the original dance. The most successful team in U.S. dance history, Belbin and Agosto are three-time Worlds medalists.

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