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Denney, Coughlin back on road to Sochi Olympics

Recovered 2012 U.S. pairs champions prepare Anastasia, Casablanca programs

Caydee Denney and John Coughlin in front of the Ice Hall in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin in front of the Ice Hall in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sarah S. Brannen)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(04/15/2013) - When two-time U.S. champion John Coughlin injured his left hip last fall, he and his partner, Caydee Denney, had to make a tough decision: He could have surgery and forfeit the rest of the season, or compete at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and jeopardize his chance at the Olympics.

Coughlin had surgery to repair the labrum in his hip in December, and five months later, he, Denney and their coach Dalilah Sappenfield are all certain it was the right choice.

"I feel 100 percent, which is great," Coughlin told icenetwork.com on April 5 in Colorado Springs, Colo. "It was a long road to get back. I don't think about it very often, so that must be a good thing."

Coughlin was off the ice for about nine weeks.

"We were back on the ice the day after nationals was over, which was kind of an incredible pace," he said. "Even for the athletic recovery that they do, for some of the professional athletes, they do like 10 to 12 weeks."

Coughlin says returning to pairs skating went smoothly, even more smoothly than he expected.

"I was most nervous about doing explosive lifting motions," he said. "I was actually the very most nervous about our twist. But, the first one we did, I had no pain going into it.

"I remember being kind of amped up, like 'Here comes the first twist after surgery,' but it was such a non-issue that it actually surprised me. The last thing I added in was side-by-side spins, just [because of] the torque of the flying camel and all of that."

Denney went home to Florida, where her family lives, for part of Coughlin's recovery period. (Her sister, Haven, trains in Florida with partner Brandon Frazier; they went on to win the 2013 world junior pairs title).

"At that point, we were on the verge of whether we would be ready for worlds or not, so I just kept training by myself, doing my programs," Denney said. "I was supporting Haven because she was getting ready to go to nationals."

"It was important for her to get some active recovery in, too," Coughlin added. "I think it was good in the long run for her to have a couple of weeks away from the pounding on throws. Her body needs rest just as much."

Coughlin says he is in no pain.

"I get a little stiff when I fly, sometimes, to be honest, but other than that I feel pretty good," he said. "I can't say enough about the Olympic Training Center and what they did. Doctor Philippon (of the Steadman Clinic in Vail) was incredible. The day after surgery, I came home and did all of my rehab with the sports medicine team at the OTC."

Denney and Coughlin are back to full training, including lifts, twists and jumps.

"We're unrestricted from all the elements at this point," Coughlin said. "We're starting to train little parts of our new short program, just trying the elements with it. It's kind of exciting to have that to work on."

Sappenfield is pleased with the progress of the team, and happy with their decision to forego the world championships.

"Just looking at the big picture, no one trains for four years to sit back and miss the Olympic year," Sappenfield said. "He's actually doing really well. We've got all our elements back, we're starting to train our new programs, we feel like we're ahead. We've had the time to develop and reinvent their look a little bit. I think that everyone will be pleasantly surprised by how they look."

The team has turned to one of the hottest choreographers in pairs today, Julie Marcotte of Montreal, for their short programs and free skates. They will be skating to music from the animated movie Anastasia for their short program.

"We're so excited about it," Denney said.

Denney will play the part of the mysterious Romanov princess. So that means Coughlin will be playing ... Rasputin?

"No, no!" Denney said, shrieking with laughter.

"Actually, the first thing we did was sit down and watch the movie together," Coughlin said. "Caydee knew it by heart."

"I love Disney," Denney confirmed (Anastasia is actually 20th Century Fox, not Disney). "I also love the connection that the Olympics is in Sochi, Russia, and Anastasia is the Russian princess. I think Russian audiences will enjoy it, and relate to it."

Marcotte has had a special version of the music recorded for the team, adding a piano part to the movie score.

"The piece of music that we're skating to doesn't sound like a Disney orchestrated piece," Coughlin said. "It's very mature, very different."

Denney and Coughlin returned to Montreal on April 7 to get their free skate choreographed.

"I'm almost positive they're doing Casablanca -- they were working on it yesterday and they both love it," Sappenfield reported on April 9. "We wanted something that was more storytelling and charismatic, and both Julie and I felt like it would be a signature piece for them."

Coughlin confirmed that they will be skating to Casablanca.

"We're thrilled with the program," he said. "It is one we will look forward to performing each time."

Both coach and skaters speak of Marcotte with great enthusiasm.

"She's incredible," Denney said.

"She's amazing," Coughlin agreed. "We're grateful to have her come into our lives in the Olympic year. I think it's rare for someone to really, really get pairs choreography and pairs skating. Even a dance choreographer might not necessarily understand the dynamics of the raw power that you need into an element. You might end up either having transitions that hurt your elements or you don't have enough transitions and you end up becoming a tennis match team up and down the ice."

"She knows how pairs skating works, and how it needs to look, and the format of everything," Denney went on. "She gets onto something and she's so creative, she doesn't want to stop, and she has so much energy."

Sappenfield says that she and the team know they need to work on their components mark, and she feels that Marcotte will help them with that.

"We've known that for a long time," Sappenfield said. "We've worked a lot on stroking, basic skating skills. Julie Marcotte is just brilliant, and she also is on the same page."

Denney and Coughlin have a very busy summer planned. They'll be going to the U.S. Olympic Committee's media summit and skating in "Ice Dreams" in Oakland, Calif., with Max Aaron, Johnny Weir and Samantha Cesario. They also plan to skate in Nick Laroche's "An Evening on Ice" benefit in July.

"I think we're doing the same competition that we did last year in Denver as a kind of tune-up for Champs Camp," Coughlin said. "Then Champs Camp, and we're hopeful to do Salt Lake (the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic), and then we'll see about Grand Prix assignments."

And come January, Denney and Coughlin plan to take on their training mates, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, and the 2013 U.S. champions, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, and battle it out for the two spots on the 2014 Olympic team.