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Denney, Barrett stun favorites by winning short

Second time around proves charm for Florida-based team

Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett upset the defending champs in the pairs short program at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Championships.
Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett upset the defending champs in the pairs short program at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Championships. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/22/2009) - Jeremy Barrett never gave up.

The 24-year-old tasted success in 2004, when he won the U.S. junior pair title with Shantel Jordan, but the team wasn't age-eligible to compete internationally. In 2006, after a few mediocre finishes at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, they split.

Things looked up when Barrett's coaches paired him with Caydee Denney, a former juvenile national roller skating champion some nine years his junior. The two competed in the summer of 2006 at the Liberty Summer Competition and Indy Pair Challenge, but in October, she moved with her mother to Colorado Springs to pursue a singles career.

So Barrett was at loose ends again. He worked around the clock at Ellenton, Fla.'s Ice and Sports Complex to support his skating -- coaching, driving the Zamboni, running the snack bar and looking for a new partner.

In June 2008, Denney returned to Florida to reunite her family, and the two picked up where they left off.

Now, they are the surprise leaders after the pairs' short program, 0.39 points ahead of heavy favorites Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker.

"As soon as we started to skate together again, things just clicked," Barrett said. "Caydee is the best partner anyone could ask for; she makes it pretty easy.

"We couldn't be happier. I probably pictured that program 600 times in my head over the last few days."

"Jeremy and I, we've just been training really hard, and we based this performance off of our training," Denney, 15, added. "Tomorrow [in the free skate], we'll look at it the same way."

In the months since they've reunited, Denney and Barrett have turned into a team of top-notch technical ability and increasing polish. Their James Bond program earned high marks for a difficult triple twist, pristine side-by-side triple toes and a solid throw triple flip.

"Caydee and Jeremy were just built to skate together," the team's primary coach, Jim Peterson, said.

"Their bodies match, their lines match, the timing on the jumps match. Caydee learned a lot in Colorado. It's a great school there, but I think separating the family was challenging, and I think she wanted to skate pairs."

"I decided to move to Colorado to check out the atmosphere there and do my singles," Denney confirmed. "But my dad was still in Florida, and it wasn't the best thing for the family."

Now, on the cusp of qualifying for her first U.S. World Team, her return to the sunshine state may pay extra dividends.

By the slimmest of margins, a hundredth of a point, defending champions McLaughlin and Brubaker took second place over two-time U.S. champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin.

The defending champions made several mistakes in their "Malaguena" program, choreographed this summer with Lea Ann Miller. Brubaker turned out of the landing of a triple Salchow, while McLaughlin landed their throw triple loop on two feet. They earned 61.12 points.

The Colorado Springs-based couple put a good face on things in the mixed zone.

"It was okay for us. It felt a little cautious in the beginning. It was all right," Brubaker, 22, said.

"The short program has been our biggest challenge this year. This program is difficult, we're trying to pull our skating in a different direction."

"I thought it could have been better -- our big tricks, I didn't like so much," McLaughlin, 16, admitted in the press conference.

The team's coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, revealed another possible reason for the team's rather tentative performance.

"Keauna really gave us a big scare," she said. "This week, until Tuesday, she had a 102 degree fever. We've just been battling back.

"It was a good start, considering they've never been in the position to defend anything before. It's good they didn't give up; they kept fighting."

While Inoue and Baldwin lacked a bit of technical firepower -- they did side-by-side double Axels, instead of triple jumps, and a throw triple loop rather than their famous triple Axel -- their effort to music from Secret Garden was clean and smooth, and the veteran skaters were more than satisfied.

"We're very happy, very pleased," Inoue said. "I'm 32, he is 35, and we've kind of reached the point where we want to do it for the audience -- the fans who have always supported us."

Baldwin has been competing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships since 1986, missing the cut just once in 1988 in his first season as a junior men's single competitor. He said there's no reason he and Inoue, who became engaged at last season's U.S. Championships, can't compete through the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"They say, 'Don't shoot the horse if he can still run,' and we can still run pretty well," he reasoned.

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, who train with McLaughlin and Brubaker in Colorado Springs, placed fourth with a sterling skate to Saint-Saens' "The Dying Swan." They enter tomorrow's free skate with 56.09 points.