To be over 61 with an imperfect program, I don’t know that we’ve broken that score that often with clean programs. To get that from an international judging panel, it means they like this program. Overall, we’re pretty excited about it, and we’re looking forward to the free skate tomorrow. —American skater John Coughlin
SALT LAKE CITY — John Coughlin was able to endure tedious, painful post-surgery rehabilitation because U.S. figure skating officials offered him the possibility of competing at the 2013 world championships.
“It gave each day so much value for Caydee and me,” Coughlin said, referring to his pairs partner, Caydee Denney. “I was so busy doing my very best to try and get ready so that if we could go, we would. It didn’t end up being the right thing for us in the long term, for our goals and my health, but I think that it got us, at least, to the point where we thought, 'We’re going to come back.'”
That hope was critical for Denney and Coughlin’s offseason work, which paid off Thursday when they scored a 61.66 in the short program of the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic at the Salt Lake Ice Arena.
"I think in the long run, it was for the best,” said Denney, who had two small bobbles on jump landings that required her placing her hand on the ice momentarily. “It was better to get back into it safely, take more time. Now we’re just feeling what it’s like to get out there and skate around together as a team. ... We’re back and ready to go, and it’s so fun.”
Denney and Coughlin were thrilled to earn more than 60 points for a program that will undoubtedly improve.
“To be over 61 with an imperfect program, I don’t know that we’ve broken that score that often with clean programs,” said Coughlin. “To get that from an international judging panel, it means they like this program. Overall, we’re pretty excited about it, and we’re looking forward to the free skate tomorrow.”
The pair head into Friday’s free skate in third place, behind U.S. teammates and reigning U.S. pairs champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who scored 62.26, and Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, who scored 68.52 in Thursday’s short program.
“We did try a new short program, but went back to this one,” said Moscovitch. “I think in taking a step away from it, it makes us appreciate it even more.”
Castelli and Shnapir made changes to their short program just two weeks ago, so they also expect to get stronger as the season progresses and competition increases.
“For us today, I don’t think it felt that good because we were still trying to process what (coaches) changed on us last week,” said Castelli. To which, Shnapir added, “We love the program and we think we can do it even better.”
The couple said defending their U.S. title has brought new pressures to their competitive experience.
“I have to say for us, we thought the hardest struggle would be to get a title,” said Castelli. “But now it’s definitely to defend it. It’s a hard task to do. There are a lot of great pairs skaters out there now, and this year is going to be even more competitive.”
The senior men also skated their short programs Thursday, with defending U.S. champion Max Aaron earning the evening’s highest score — 81.49 points.
Afterward, he talked about adding some of his newly learned salsa moves and the hope that someday he will have the chance to compete against one of his heroes — reigning Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, who pulled out of this competition earlier this week to deal with an injury. Lysacek has not competed since winning the gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“Once again, I’m competing for myself and against myself, but having Evan here — that would have been for me kind of a dream come true because I always wanted to compete with Evan and have my name kind of called alongside his name,” Aaron said. “He’s been my idol for a long time now. ... If I ever have the opportunity to compete against him that would be awesome.”
The pairs will skate their full programs at 5:45 p.m. Friday, with the men skating their longer programs at 7:15 p.m. Ice dancers will begin Friday’s competition with their short programs at 12:35 p.m.
Coughlin said he had to find patience he didn’t know he had after undergoing surgery on a torn labrum in his hip, as well as micro-fracturing that is meant to help simulate lost cartilage.
“I spent seven weeks, zero weight bearing, spending eight hours a day, with a passive motion machine bicycling my leg for me,” he said. Then it was gentle kicks in the pool, slow walking and gradually running on a treadmill that counteracted his body weight.
“We baby-stepped it back because we wanted to do it right, to do it once,” said the 27-year-old Missouri native.
Both he and Denney said doing well in this early competition is important to them.
“It mattered a lot to me,” said Coughlin, who has skated with Denney since 2011. “It mattered to both of us. We always want to skate well when it says representing your home skating club, or when it says representing your country. There is a lot of weight behind that. We take that seriously and we want to represent the country well. We’re excited to be back traveling with the team again.”
All of the skaters said they have room to improve, but Coughlin said he and Denney have gotten creative about how they approach training this season.
“Our offense has gotten a little more in-depth this year,” he said smiling, as he described specific workouts they’ve committed to off the ice. “We both do some hot yoga together to work on our flexibility. I feel like I’m dying halfway through it. I tell Katie, 'If I pass out, just drag me out of there.'”
2013 U.S. INTERNATIONAL FIGURE SKATING CLASSIC
Friday, Sept. 13
Short Dance: 12:35 PM
Ladies SP: 3:10 PM
Pairs FS: 5:45 PM
Men’s FS: 7:15 PM
Saturday, Sept. 14
Ladies FS: 2:50 PM
Free Dance: 5:45 PM