Medal streak ends for McLaughlin, Brubaker

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne BrubakerThe impressive string of Grand Prix medals has stopped at five for Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker. At Skate America in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Saturday, the two-time U.S. Champions finished fourth, the first time in their careers they have been off the podium at a Grand Prix event.

McLaughlin and Brubaker were vastly improved from their short program, opening their free skate to the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack with solid side-by-side triple Salchow-double loop combinations. “I was just determined to land the triple Sal today [after popping it into a single in the short] and nothing was going to stop me,” McLaughlin said.

Although there were other minor bobbles throughout, including both of them flipping out on the landing of the side-by-side double Axel and McLaughlin’s miscues on the landings of her throws, the team was strong overall.

“It wasn’t too bad,” she said. “I would give it an A for effort. Overall the program’s presentation could have been a little better. We were slow on the elements but I’m happy we didn’t have any falls or pops.”

In 2007, the team made their Grand Prix debut by winning back-t0-back silver medals at Cup of China and the NHK Trophy. McLaughlin and Brubaker won silver at 2008 Skate America, bronze at 2008 Skate Canada and another bronze at 2009 Rostelecom Cup.

Skate America was won by the three-time World Champions and two-time Olympic bronze medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China with 201.40 points. Shen and Zhao, who won Cup of China a few weeks ago, returned to competition in pursuit of the elusive Olympic gold medal following a two-season absence.

The silver medal went to Ukrainians Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov with 171.82 for a second place short program and third place free skate. Olympic silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (168.19) pulled up from fifth place with a second place free that earned them the bronze medal.

McLaughlin and Brubaker were fourth with 165.37. The two other American pairs, reigning U.S. pewter medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig and the 2007 U.S. Champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, took fifth and sixth with 148.33 points and 139.58 points respectively.

Although Shen and Zhao won the competition by a landslide, their performance to Albinoni’s “Adagio in G Minor” was not without mistakes. He fell out of the second double Axel in the double Axel sequence. She later put a hand down on the throw triple loop, although she recovered for a solid throw triple Salchow.

They won both the technical element score (62.20) and the program components score (65.84). The Ukrianians were second in program components with 54.72 while Zhang and Zhang tied for third with McLaughlin and Brubaker (52.88). In the technical element score, Zhang and Zhang were second with 58.47.

Castile and Okolski were the first of the U.S. pairs to skate. Performing to “Claire de Lune,” they had a variety of problems during the program, including her fall on the throw triple Salchow. She also singled her double Axel in the side-by-side double Axels and the errors continued from there.

“You can practice everyday but it doesn’t replace the experience you get from competing,” she said.

It was Castile and Okolski’s first appearance on the Grand Prix since 2005. After not being selected in 2006, they were named to two events in both 2007 and 2008 but withdrew from the competitions because of various injuries, and have struggled to gain footing since.

They won the bronze medal at the 2008 U.S. Championships and were fifth last season.

Evora and Ladwig’s routine included a throw triple Lutz, a triple twist and difficult lifts and spins, but both two  solo jumps were under rotated and downgraded. The first jump of the triple toe-double toe combination was downgraded as well as the double Axels.

In the warm up before the final group of skaters, Canada’s Meagan Duhamel, who was in third place with partner and Craig Buntin, appeared to have injured her ankle when she fell on a throw triple loop, but continued skating through it.

Duhamel and Buntin skated about half of their program before she took a scary fall again on the throw triple loop. Unable to use her hands to break the fall, Duhamel crashed down on the ice, hitting her shoulder and then hitting the back of her head on the ice. They stopped the program and withdrew shortly after but she is expected to be OK.

Five-time U.S. Champions Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto strengthened their lead in the original dance ahead of Russia’s Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski and Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. Heading into the free, the top three couples have 100.23 points, 86.47 and 86.13 respectively.

U.S. bronze medalists Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre are fifth with 81.47 points following a fifth place compulsory and a fourth place original. The 2009 World Junior Champions Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein are currently seventh with 73.43.

Skate America is the fifth event of the 2009 International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating circuit. The series, now in its 15th season, consists of six international events in a cumulative, point-scoring format. The top six scoring athletes in each discipline move onto the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 3-6, in Tokyo, Japan, which will be combined with the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final for the second consecutive season.

The six Grand Prix events are Trophee Eric Bompard, Oct. 15-18, in Paris, France; Rostelecom Cup, Oct. 22-25, in Moscow Russia; Cup of China, Oct. 29-Nov. 1, in Beijing, China; NHK Trophy, Nov. 5-8, in Nagano, Japan; Skate America, Nov. 12-15, in Lake Placid, N.Y.; and Skate Canada, Nov. 19-22, in Kitchener, Canada.

The points toward the Grand Prix Final that are awarded for each place are 15 points for first; 13 points for second; 11 points for third; nine points for fourth; seven points for fifth; five points for sixth place; four points for seventh place; and three points for eighth. In pair skating, only the top six receive points.

__________

Figure Skaters Online strives to be an accurate source of information related to the sport of figure skating. To report an error, please e-mail the news editor. Include the article date and title in your e-mail.