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Babilonia mentors McLaughlin, Brubaker

Iconic skater travels to Colorado to help national champs

Tai Babilonia (right) with Keauna McLaughlin (center) and Rockne Brubaker (left).
Tai Babilonia (right) with Keauna McLaughlin (center) and Rockne Brubaker (left). (Jo Ann Schneider Farris)

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By Jo Ann Schneider Farris, special to icenetwork.com
(01/05/2009) - World pair skating champion, five-time U.S. champion and figure skating legend Tai Babilonia made a special trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., over the New Year's weekend. Why? She was asked by 2008 U.S. pair champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker to be the pair team's mentor.

"Just a few weeks ago, I got a phone call asking me to do this. I was so honored," Babilonia explained.

Although McLaughlin represents the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club, where Babilonia is an honorary member, the skaters' paths had not previously crossed, except in passing, before Babilonia went to Colorado

Babilonia explained, "Keauna and I have so much in common. We both came into the figure skating limelight at a very young age. Keauna is about the same age as I was when I first came into the public eye. I know what she is going through, and I know what it is like to have the world watching your every move. It can be scary. I know what it's like to want to defend the U.S. pair title. I had to do that five times. I want to be there if Keauna and Rockne need me."

In addition to getting to know and observe McLaughlin and Brubaker in action on and off the ice, Babilonia had a chance to observe pair skating coach Dalilah Sappenfield's unique program.

"I don't think a similar atmosphere for pair skating training exists anywhere else," said Babilonia, "There are so many pairs! I can tell that Dalilah loves what she does, and it shows as her pairs train. Pair skating has just changed so much."

In addition to getting to spend time with McLaughlin, Brubaker and Sappenfield during her current short trip to Colorado Springs, Babilonia reunited with some skating friends from her past. One of the people she was delighted to see at the World Arena was former world singles and pairs roller skating champion, Jack Courtney. Courtney eventually switched to the ice and won the pairs bronze medal at the 1975 and '76 U.S. Championships.

"Tai and I go way back," said Courtney. "I think I invented some of the lifts done by Tai with Randy Gardner."

Babilonia also reunited with the author and her three kids. Schneider Farris and Babilonia skated together as children.

Babilonia observed, "I remember Jo Ann, her brother and her sister -- the three Schneiders -- way back when I was just a little girl skating in Culver City. It was fun to see Jo Ann's kids skating with Dalilah's group and developing a love of pair skating."

Brubaker said that he was greatly honored that Babilonia had taken the time to come to Colorado just to be with him and his partner. "It is clear that a very wonderful relationship is forming," he said with a smile.

Babilonia said, "I'm going to be giving out the awards at the 2009 World Championships when they take place in Los Angeles. I hope that perhaps one of the awards I give out goes to the pair I am personally mentoring!"