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McLaughlin, Brubaker tweak programs before worlds

U.S. pairs champions make changes as they get ready for homecoming

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker made some changes to their short program around their lift in the second half of the skate.
Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker made some changes to their short program around their lift in the second half of the skate. (Paul Harvath)

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By Todd Hinckley
(03/19/2009) - You can go home again.

For U.S. pairs skater Keauna McLaughlin, the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships will be a homecoming. The 16-year-old calls Los Angeles her hometown and is very excited about skating in front of so many friends and family.

"I think a lot of people probably that I've known my whole life haven't seen me compete live with Rockne [Brubaker], so they're going to definitely come," she said during a teleconference previewing the championships. "I'm going to have so many people I know and love in the crowd, and I'm really excited about that, because it's going to be such a supportive environment, and I know I'm going to have the crowd behind me. ... I'm just, honestly, so excited to go back home and compete."

But McLaughlin and Brubaker, the two-time reigning U.S. champions, are making sure that they do not get overwhelmed when they arrive with the rest of the world's best skaters at the Staples Center in L.A., especially because they have been looking ahead to this event for years now.

The pair first made a splash on the international stage as juniors in 2006-07, winning every event the two appeared in -- two Junior Grand Prix, the JGP Final, the U.S. championships and the world junior championships. Then, a year later, at the senior level, they qualified for the Grand Prix Final and won their first U.S. national title. At the time, McLaughlin was only 15 and was therefore too young to compete at the world championships. So, when they won the U.S. title again this year, clinching their spot on the U.S. World Team, they knew that after all the hype, they were finally going to senior worlds.

McLaughlin said simply, "I'm excited that I'm old enough to go!"

But with all of their early success, the team dealt with a lot of lofty expectations, and dealing with those has been one of the biggest challenges in their young career. After such a successful first season at the senior level internationally, their original goal for 2008-09 was medaling at the world championships. After a silver medal at Skate America and a bronze at Skate Canada did not qualify them for the GP Final, they reevaluated their season objectives.

"Really, this last part of the season," Brubaker explained, "what we've really been trying to focus on is, for worlds, going and just putting out two great skates. Without thinking about just the medals, we know that, if we go and we skate really well and we put out two really solid performances, that we have the ability to be on the medal stand."

He later added, "For us to do well at worlds, we know that putting out two strong performances and showing the judges that we're ready and we're here to compete and that we can be competitive at this level" is the most important thing to focus on.

McLaughlin and Brubaker, 22, are hoping that if they focus on their performance, the results will take care of themselves. They are still the youngest contender competing in L.A., and they realize that, at their ages, they just need to show the judges that they are ready to compete on this stage, because it will take time to achieve everything that some of their fellow competitors have achieved.

"Most of these teams that are in the top 10 in the world, you know, they've been on the international circuit or they've been competing internationally for 5-10 years. Most of them already have an Olympics under their belt," Brubaker said.

The couple has been quite busy since defending their U.S. title in January and placing fifth at the Four Continents Championships in February. They have struggled somewhat with their short program this season, so they addressed that.

"We actually changed our element order, so it's a little bit more comfortable for us. I think the program [now] has better speed overall," McLaughlin said.

"It's gonna look quite a bit different," Brubaker added. "The first part is the same -- up to our triple twist -- but after that, quite a bit of it is different. It's definitely more comfortable. It definitely plays to the judges a little bit better, and it works with the flow."

Their throw triple loop had been the second-to-last element in their short program, but they moved it up so that it now comes right after their triple twist. Next, they move to their side-by-side spins right in front of the judges, then their spiral sequence and the death spiral at the end.

"Where we're doing the throw and the side-by-side spins are actually in completely different places," Brubaker added. "So, they have a different approach going in, and there's kind of completely different choreography going in"

Placed earlier in the program, the lift is easier for McLaughlin to manage, and the couple avoids a technical problem they were having with it later on.

The duo also made some minor changes to its free skate, changing the choreography around its triple Salchows and taking out its carry lift and replacing it with the same lift as in the short program.

A U.S. pair has not landed on the worlds podium since Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman won bronze in Nagano, Japan, in 2002. With their program adjustments and the home crowd, McLaughlin and Brubaker believe they are capable of ending that drought. But, they know there are lots of contenders standing in their way. All they can worry about is putting out two great skates.

"We really just want to put our name out there and let [the judges and the other skaters] know that we're a force to be reckoned with and be competitive against the whole world," McLaughlin said.