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Top U.S. pair arrives in Sweden fit and ready

Inoue, Baldwin plan technically packed programs

Rena Inoue and John Baldwin will compete at the Trophee Eric Bompard in October.
Rena Inoue and John Baldwin will compete at the Trophee Eric Bompard in October. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/17/2008) - Rena Inoue is sporting something new at the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Gothenburg -- an engagement ring.

Her on-ice partner and boyfriend of five years, John Baldwin, popped the question after the couple's free program at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Paul, Minn., this January but didn't bring a ring onto the ice with him. There was no time to shop, and besides, his costume didn't have any pockets.

"I don't need a ring," Inoue said at the time. "Just being with John, through the good times and the bad, is all I need."

"She's selfless like that," Baldwin said of his fiancée. "But of course, I wanted to get her something special."

The couple selected stones, and Baldwin visited a Santa Monica jeweler to design a ring. He put the completed product on Inoue's finger before they left their home in the Los Angeles area to compete at the Four Continents Championships in Korea last month.

"At first, [the jeweler] said he couldn't do it in time, but when I said I'd go to someone else, he changed his mind," Baldwin laughed.

Inoue had her ring when she and Baldwin skated to a fourth-place finish near Seoul.

In preparation for Gothenburg, they've made numerous changes to both of their programs, adding more difficult elements and refining the choreography.

"The [throw] triple Axel is back in the short program, and we're also doing the triple twist," Baldwin said.

"The [last] time the triple twist was in our program was two years ago. We stopped doing it, because under the [judging system] rules, a high-level double twist was worth more points. Now, they've changed the rules, and a triple twist is worth half a point more than [the highest level] double twist. You have to think strategically when you map out your programs."

The two-time U.S. champions (2004 and '06), who placed second this year behind Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, were the first team to complete a throw triple Axel in competition, hitting it at the 2006 Olympics. They are the top U.S. pair at the world championships this year, since McLaughlin is too young under International Skating Union rules to compete at worlds.

The veteran duo -- Baldwin is 34; Inoue is 31 -- returned to competition at the '08 U.S. Championships after performing in shows in Europe and Japan through early January, just a few weeks before the event.

"We were always in shape; we just weren't performing our competition programs," Baldwin said. "But we're much more comfortable and prepared here than we were at nationals."

"The car has more miles on it," their coach, Philipp Mills, added. "We've had the time to do a lot of run-throughs and really work on the programs."

With better preparation and a more strategically-planned performance, the couple hopes to improve upon last year's eighth-place finish at worlds and, perhaps, eclipse their career-best, fourth-place finish from 2006.