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Winning duo has big day, and future

McLaughlin, Brubaker win U.S. title with a flair that suggests they could one day be the first Americans to win pairs gold at Olympics.

January 27, 2008|Philip Hersh | Special to the Times

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The guy got his name because his grandfather was a big football fan.

His partner's mother, a former show skater, stretched her little girl's body while changing diapers in case the daughter wanted to become a skater one day.

That unusual combination of lineages has become a team that woke up long silent echoes of U.S. pairs skating excellence Saturday afternoon.

Keauna McLaughlin of Los Angeles and Rockne Brubaker II of Algonquin, Ill., who train in Colorado Springs, Colo., may have made one big error, her fall on a triple jump, but there was no mistaking the rare brilliance of their winning performance in the free skate final.

"I've got shivers, not just for that performance but also for their future," said NBC commentator Sandra Bezic, a former Canadian pairs champion. "The first four elements in their program were as good as any world team."

They will have to wait a year to see how they match up with the world's best, because McLaughlin, 15, does not meet the age minimum for this March's world championships.

"It will give us another year to jell as a team," McLaughlin said. "We want to become the first U.S. team to win the Olympics."

The second and third finishers, 2004 and 2006 champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin and 2007 champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, got the world team berths.

After only two years together, McLaughlin and Brubaker won both the short program and free skate, becoming the first pair to go from junior to senior champions in one year since Nancy Rouillard and Ron Ludington in 1957.

The new champions impressed Ludington, who coached 1984 Olympic silver medalists Kitty and Peter Carruthers.

"They have great speed, all the powerful tricks, but the thing I like best is their discipline," Ludington said. "I think they are well on their way."

The winners' performance was so compelling it could not even be upstaged by Baldwin's dropping to a knee to propose marriage to Inoue at the end of their free skate. She accepted.

Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and the Chicago Tribune.

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