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Sui, Han win first senior title with audacious free

Two U.S. teams medal at event for the first time since 2000

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han plan to compete at both senior and junior worlds this season.
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han plan to compete at both senior and junior worlds this season. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/12/2012) - Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, the teenaged heirs to China's great pairs' dynasty, captured their first senior international title Sunday afternoon at the 2012 Four Continents Championships with a 16-point victory over U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin.

U.S. silver medalists Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker won bronze, marking the first time since 2000 that U.S. pairs have won two medals at this event. Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig were sixth.

The spitfire Chinese, who won the world junior title in 2010 and 2011, built a free skate score of 135.08 -- nearly 14 points above their previous personal best -- with an audacious skate that included a throw quadruple Salchow and a quad twist. Although Sui two-footed the landing of the throw, it still earned 7.43 points; the twist was judged near flawless, earning 8.96 points.

Add a triple toe combination and big throw triple flip to the equation, and the Chinese finished with 201.83 points.

"We are so happy and excited," Cong, 19, said in his developing English. "We didn't think we would get such high marks. I don't think we can sleep tonight."

Chinese team leader Dong Yang said it was as yet undecided whether Sui and Cong, whose birthdates make them eligible for both senior and junior worlds, would compete at both events.

However, when asked whether he and his 16-year-old partner would compete at junior worlds, senior worlds or both, Cong said, "Both, I am sure. We have won junior worlds twice and are very excited to go to senior worlds and compete for our country."

China has two pairs spots assigned for the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice at the end of March. Conventional wisdom says those would likely go to former world champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong, and 2006 Olympic silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, but Sui and Han's impressive score here, coupled with Hao Zhang's continuing shoulder problems, might influence the decision.

Competing in their home rink, Denney and Coughlin also skated a personal best, nailing their three opening moves -- triple twist, throw triple loop and side-by-side triple toes -- and hitting a solid throw triple flip in the second half of the program.

Their lifts were complex and exciting, and their only notable mistake was Denney's singling of the first of two double Axels done in sequence.

They earned 122.07 points for a total score of 185.42.

"We got a little excited at the end -- we were a little off timing on the exit of our carry lift -- but saved it pretty well," Coughlin, 26, said. "Once again, like we said after the short program, it's a step in the right direction, building toward the world championships.

"Of course there were some points left out there on the table, and we don't ever want to lose those, what we call 'fool-proof' points. So we'll go back home and really work on those levels as well as just performing together more."

The team's coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, said her skaters may have been under more self-induced pressure here than at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships two weeks ago.

"We're in our own rink, at home, we have our family and friends, and I think there's a little bit more pressure here than they had at nationals," she said. "They don't want to disappoint anyone. It was nice for them to step up to the plate and skate well."

Marley and Brubaker had a rough start -- Marley fell on the opening triple toe and turned out of a the landing of a double Axel -- but the U.S. silver medalists recouped and landed an impressive throw triple Lutz and executed three Level 4 lifts in the second half of their free to Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2."

They earned 116.47 points, more than 17 points above their previous personal best, and finished with 178.89.

"We've come a long way," said the 25-year-old Brubaker, who teamed with the 16-year-old Marley, then a singles' skater, in August 2010. "Last season at Four Continents, we were last after the short, eighth overall. Now we're third and third. Our season's best was 98; today it is 116. So we're headed in the right direction.

"There are some points there we know we can get very easily back, whether it be a few of our levels or increase the GOEs [grades of execution] on our lifts, so just get to work for worlds and be ready in five or six weeks."

U.S. bronze medalists Evora and Ladwig opened their program with a solid triple twist and gained the highest-scoring lift of the event, but Evora fell on the landing of the throw triple Lutz, and the duo had trouble completing their final lift.

They earned 107.24 points for the free and finished with 167.99.

"Of course it wasn't our best skate, but we did fight out there," Evora, 27, said. "We could tell that we were a little shaky going out there, but we fought throughout the whole thing, knowing when you're trained you're allowed to do that.

"It had some good and some bad. What's interesting is some of the things we usually don't do so well we did well this time, and some of the things we usually do well we didn't do so well."