Denney, Coughlin showcase maturity in new short

Second-year pair confident they can improve on last year's fourth-place finish at event

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin are focused on improving their connection on the ice.
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin are focused on improving their connection on the ice. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(10/19/2012) - When Caydee Denney and John Coughlin competed at Skate America last season, they had skated together less than five months, and placed fourth.

This time around, with a full season together under their belts, they expect more.

"Just having experience competing with John for a whole season, and having daily training with John over a longer period of time, has helped," Denney, 19, said. "Just knowing each other and how to compete as a team helps us."

It's good they're able to roll with the punches, because feedback gained at U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp in late August convinced them to scrap their original short program, choreographed by Pasquale Camerlengo to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

"Some of the main feedback was a program like that would come off too showy versus competitive, and we certainly didn't want to do that," the team's coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, said. "We wanted something strong -- one of the suggestions was to make sure John looked strong in the short -- and we wanted to show growth and a mature side, and so we went to Rodrigo ('Concierto de Aranjuez')."

Sappenfield did the choreography, and initial feedback at the Nebelhorn Trophy was positive, including the program components score.

"I think they scored 27 or 28 in components (it was actually 26.05), which they've never done," she said. "We were more than happy. I really didn't have time to tweak it and do all of the little changes you need to do."

The short has been a focus since Nebelhorn, where Denney and Coughlin placed second to Russian world silver medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. They square off against the Russians again here at Skate America.

"We're fine-tuning it, just trying to make the program grow and get better with each performance," Denney said.

"I think you can work the choreography, but when you put the elements with it, it's more challenging to stay connected to the character," Coughlin, 26, said. "We want more of a focus on the performance."

Their efforts in upping their emotional connection with the music and characters in the short, as well as in their free skate to The Phantom of the Opera, are aided by Kathy Johnson, the Julliard-trained modern dance expert who coaches two-time world champion Patrick Chan.

"Kathy has been great in that she will ask us, 'What do you want to say here?' " Coughlin said. "She wants your fingerprints all over the program, and then she will enhance it. She'll say, 'If this is the basis you want to go from, then let's go here and breathe through it like this,' and it gives you a way to relate to it, which for me especially is really good."

"John moves really well; it's lovely to see when he does this work and begins to develop," Johnson said. "He has a much wider range of movement, I think, than most people might expect from a bigger (6'2") guy."

Something else the U.S. champions plan to show off this season: a Level 3 triple twist, which earned them seven points in the free skate at Nebelhorn.

"The added feature [the ISU] put in place this year, which is a benefit to people like us, is for the man's hands to go down below his shoulders while the girl is in the air," Coughlin said. "It's something that is attainable when you have a good-size twist. It's something we circled right away as a way to up the ante this year."

They worked on the new feature with Sappenfield this summer, attaining the height and timing needed for the extra movement.

"It's working well now," Coughlin said. "All it takes is a strong guy, some power and a girl who is fearless."