KENT, Wash. – Watch out, world. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin are coming for you.
The United States is ready once again to contend with the best pairs in the world, thanks to Denney and Coughlin. The pair earned the bronze medal Saturday night at 2012 Hilton HHonors Skate America, finishing third in both the short program and free skate. Before that, the U.S. had not won a pairs medal on the Grand Prix circuit in nearly two years (Amanda Evora/Mark Ladwig, bronze, Rostelecom Cup, Nov. 2010).
“Oh wow,” Denney said upon learning the U.S. did not medal in pairs in last year’s Grand Prix Series.
“I didn’t realize that,” added Coughlin. “It’s exciting. I think any athlete’s goal is to leave their sport a little better than they found it, and if we can start making medals for American pairs on the Grand Prix a regular thing, that would be something we would be very proud of.”
Two-time world silver medalists from Russia, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, took gold on Saturday, winning both the short program and free skate, while the Olympic silver medalists from China, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, earned silver.
Denney and Coughlin’s Skate America bronze is the couple’s first Grand Prix medal together. The medal is also the first of its kind for Denney; Coughlin earned bronze at 2010 Cup of China with former partner Caitlin Yankowskas.
Denney and Coughlin have only been together for 17 months and have achieved incredible success in that short amount of time. Last season they scored gold at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and followed it up with silver at the 2012 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.
Denney is a 2010 Olympian and the 2010 U.S. champion with previous partner Jeremy Barrett; Coughlin was the 2011 U.S. champion with Yankowskas. Coughlin planned to retire until his longtime coach Dalilah Sappenfield suggested he try out with Denney. The two fit together perfectly and quickly became the couple to watch.
“They looked like they were meant to be together right off the bat, they just had this immediate click,” Sappenfield told TeamUSA.org one month after the initial tryout. “They just know when to move together, when to take certain steps together without talking to each other. I think a big part of it is their experience as well.”
They immediately set some goals for themselves, which included earning a national title (check!) and competing at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. With every medal they earn and every personal best score they achieve, Denney and Coughlin inch closer to their Olympic dream. The two are also on their way to putting the United States back on the international pairs scene. Team USA has not medaled in pairs at the World Figure Skating Championships since Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman earned bronze in 2002, and Denney and Coughlin are the ones who could end that drought.
“We’re happy with how we skated [Saturday] and it was a good start for our first Grand Prix,” Denney said. “With each one, our end goal is to represent the U.S. as well as we can at worlds, so with each Grand Prix that we go to we’re gonna take away what we can from it and grow on that.”
Denney and Coughlin have competed in three international competitions in the U.S., finishing fourth at 2011 Skate America in Ontario, Calif., earning silver at 2011 Four Continents in Colorado Springs, Colo., and their most recent third-place finish here at 2012 Skate America. They say the home-country crowd helps them.
“The energy that everyone brings, you can feel that support when you’re skating out there,” Denney said. “It’s always exciting and you just have fun with it and feed off that energy.”
“We thrive off the energy of the crowd and we want to give them a performance so when they react to how we’re skating it makes it that much more exciting for us,” Coughlin added.
The pair is already looking at what they can improve upon to gear up for their next Grand Prix, 2012 Cup of Russia, Nov. 9-11.
“I think growing our component is something we’re excited about,” Coughlin said. “It’s not any one thing, it’s trying to feel that story throughout the program and help the audience grab on to it.”
Veteran U.S. pair Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who have been together since 2006, finished fifth in what proved to be an exciting competition for them. Their score of 108.52 in the free skate was a new personal best, as was their total of 164.19. At the beginning of the season, Castelli and Shnapir reevaluated their relationship in order to improve their on-ice performance.
“We’ve been through a lot the last couple years and we had a low point in the beginning of the season, so we sat down together and decided we’re gonna train, we’re gonna work every day, and I think part of the transitions is our commitment to each other and to every day,” Castelli said. “We don’t blame each other anymore, we just look at each other and know we have to do it again. Just knowing each other so well has gotten us really far and we really are ready to do this.”
In the men’s competition, three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott slipped from third place after the short program to fifth place overall. Abbott said his free skate was the most physically difficult program he has ever done.
“That was awful,” Abbott said. “We really retooled the way I was training off-ice, on-ice, physically, mentally. There’s still a disconnect somewhere and we have to really reevaluate again. ... About halfway through, my body just shut down completely. I was just doing everything I could to stay up on my feet and keep going without giving up.”
Abbott later tweeted that he found out he has a compression in his spine, pushing on his nerves and “causing the muscle to cramp and not fire properly.” Abbott’s next Grand Prix is Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris, Nov. 16-18.
“I have three weeks, which is a lot of time, so I think I need to sit down with all of my team – my sport psychologist, my trainer, my nutritionist, [coaches] Yuka [Sato] and Jason [Dungjen] – and talk things over and figure it out.”
Armin Mahbanoozadeh finished seventh in both programs and seventh overall. With a lot of help from a physical therapist, Mahbanoozadeh continued to compete after spraining his ankle during warm-up on Thursday.
“I’ve been telling myself that my ankle is held together by a little bit of tape, a little bit of Advil, and a lot of determination,” Mahbanoozadeh said. “It was really close, I was really close to withdrawing but I’m glad I stuck it out. I found out a lot about myself this week and I’m happy I stuck with it.”
After finishing 10th in the short program, out of 10 competitors, Douglas Razzano ended the competition in ninth place ... but on a very high note. Razzano successfully landed his quad toeloop, becoming the only American of the competition to land a quad.
“I’m very satisfied after what happened [Friday], that I could land a quad under the pressure,” Razzano said. “I haven’t done one like that in my program in a while. To do one when it counted the most was very satisfying and just showed to me more than anybody that you can do it when it counts.”