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Rink notes: Marley, Brubaker 'different team now'

California pair goes back to basics; Watch out, Yankee Polka is coming

Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker are slowly building toward 2014.
Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker are slowly building toward 2014. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/26/2012) - Rockne Brubaker says he and partner Mary Beth Marley have taken a leap forward, simply because a few months ago, they took a few steps back.

"I think people are definitely going to see a different team, and people are going to see Mary Beth and go, 'Oh my gosh, she's so strong out there," said the 25-year-old Brubaker, who won two U.S. pairs titles with former partner Keauna McLaughlin.

"People have to remember, it's only been a year-and-a-half she's been doing pairs."

When Marley and Brubaker teamed up in the summer of 2010, the now 16-year-old Marley had to cram her pairs tests into a few weeks to meet the Sept. 1 U.S. Figure Skating filing deadline for qualifying competitions. Their first season together, they placed fourth at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and eighth at the 2011 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

Last fall, Brubaker and Marley nailed their Singing in the Rain short program at Skate America, but mistakes in the free skate kept them in seventh place. A week later, they skated much better at a senior international in France, winning bronze.

"Skate America, the whole week was really great for us except for a couple of minutes in the free skate," Brubaker said. "France was good, and we've been training really hard. We've had good practices."

After the fall events, the skaters and their team, including primary coaches Jenni Meno and Todd Sand -- as well as John Nicks, who stepped down as primary coach earlier this season but still works with the pair -- took a back-to-basics approach at their rink in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

"Last year, their difficulty was ramped up tremendously, and since we've taken over, we've backed off a little bit to get the basics really solid, so that when Mary Beth is skating with Rockne, they can skate the way they want to skate and not just think about elements," said Sand, who won three U.S. pair titles with wife Meno.

"We've kind of taken the approach that through the quadrennial -- what do we have, a little over two years left now -- we want to peak in that Olympic season. What we saw in the short program at Skate America is what they are capable of, and that's what we need to get consistently in the short and long."

They may be looking ahead to Sochi, but Marley also wants to impress the judges here in San Jose.

"You don't train day in and day out and not try to win," she said. "I'm very competitive. I want to go out there and skate solid programs that show how well we've been training."

There have been a few changes to the pair's free skate, choreographed by Christine Binder to Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2." The triple Salchows are out for now.

"We're doing triple toe-double toe [combinations] and then double Axel, and we moved our death spiral up in the program, "Brubaker said. "So we now have both throws and all three lifts after the halfway point [for bonus points]. It's a big second half for sure."

"They still do triple Salchows all the time -- in fact, earlier in the season they were doing triple flips," Sand said. "But with everything else that's going on -- we're doing much more difficult lifts, especially for Mary Beth, and the throw triple flip and Salchow -- it's a lot. We're trying to balance it."

Roll out the barrels

Skaters, get your lederhosen out of mothballs. The Yankee Polka is coming.

Ice dance coaches at the 2012 European Figure Skating Championships in Sheffield, England, confirm that next season's senior short dance will include sequences of the Yankee Polka. The junior short dance will include sequences from the Blues.

Most pattern (compulsory) dances are British or Russian in origin, but as its name implies, the Yankee Polka is a strictly American invention, created in 1969 by five-time U.S. ice dance champions and world silver medalists Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky and their coach, Ron Ludington. The Yankee Polka demands good attack, deep edges and a light touch, all executed with extreme joy and perky precision.

"It's a bit of a toe-tapper. I guess the music can get a little redundant pretty quickly," Ben Agosto said when he and Tanith Belbin competed the dance as a compulsory at the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"It's no joke, though; it's a tough dance to do well, especially if you are taller, because it's hard to keep up that fast footwork," Agosto continued.

Since the short dance -- a hybrid of pattern (compulsory) dances and three other elements that debuted in 2010 -- allows skaters to choose their own music, we may not hear too many versions of Frankie Yankovic's greatest hits this time around.

Gennadi Karponosov, the 1980 Olympic ice dance champion (with Natalia Linichuk) generally acknowledged as one of the world's foremost compulsory dance coaches, applauds the choice.

"I'm not a fan of eliminating the compulsories -- they are the basis of ice dancing," he said. "I think the short dance is the best way we can include them now. Next year the seniors will do Yankee Polka. I like that it will be a big dance, and the judges will get the full picture [of skaters' skills] and can watch everything all together. That's very important."