Tuesday, July 14, 2009

McLaughlin, Brubaker adapt to new training methods

At U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp last month, a speaker asked skaters and their coaches, "What's your first big Olympic memory?"

Frank Carroll remembered how his coach, Maribel Owen, left him to train on his own while she accompanied students to the 1956 Games. Tom Zakrajsek recalled the inspiration of Dorothy Hamill's 1976 gold-medal winning free skate.

Then John Nicks spoke up.

"For me, it was Sonja Henie's first gold medal in 1928," the dry Brit remarked, prompting waves of laughter and a few groans.

Nicks was exaggerating a bit -- he wasn't born until the following year -- but, at age 80, he's the senior member of the coaching ranks. Nicks leads a group of veteran pros -- including Carroll and Don Laws, coach of Canada's world silver medalist Patrick Chan -- who hope to guide their pupils toward the 2010 Winter Olympics.

In Nicks' case, he was thrust back into the spotlight in May when two-time U.S. pair champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker announced they were leaving Colorado Springs, Colo., and coach Dalilah Sappenfield to work with him in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

"They've completed the first real month [training here]," he said last week. "The first week or two were a little rough. I'm sure my coaching is very different for them. They had a wonderful coach [Sappenfield] before, and it takes time getting used to change. The last few weeks have been much, much better."

Teamed by Sappenfield in early 2006, McLaughlin and Brubaker gained fast success, including the 2007 world junior title. In their 2007-08 senior debut season, they qualified for the ISU Grand Prix Final and won the U.S. national title on their first try, although McLaughlin was too young to compete at worlds. But they had a difficult 2008-09 season, scrambling to repeat as U.S. champions after placing second in the short program and finishing a disappointing 11th at their senior worlds debut in Los Angeles in March.

"The move was uncomfortable at first, but I think it will be good in the long run," said McLaughlin, who will turn 17 in September. "Mr. Nicks is very wise. He has a lot of knowledge, a lot to share."

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