Reporting from Spokane, Wash. — They were going to be the next great U.S. pairs team, the one that made NBC commentator Sandra Bezic rave after their victory at the U.S. Championships two years ago.
"I've got shivers, not just for that performance but also for their future," Bezic said of Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker.
McLaughlin and Brubaker both vowed Saturday they still have a skating future together, but it won't include what had been an expected appearance at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.
An impressive free skate made Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett runaway U.S. champions with 190.30 points, beating their training partners in Ellenton, Fla., Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, by 16.52.
The Floridians got the two pairs spots for the Vancouver Games.
Rena Inoue, 33, and John Baldwin, 36, the oldest pairs team in the world, were third, their seventh straight national medal, including two titles. Baldwin said he was "shocked'" and "left with a sour feeling" by the judging that left them .6 out of second.
After two seasons of failing to build on the foundation they showed in 2008, two-time U.S. pairs champions McLaughlin and Brubaker simply fell apart like a house of cards to finish fifth here, a whopping 24.57 out of first.
McLaughlin, 17, of Los Angeles, and Brubaker, 23, of Algonquin, Il., made huge errors in both the short program and free skate.
"Sometimes things don't always work out the way you would like them to," Brubaker said. "It's about staying the course. We're young."
Denney, 16, was the youngest skater in any discipline at the 2009 worlds, where she and Barrett led U.S. pairs finishers in ninth. It is highly unlikely they can become the first U.S. Olympic pairs medalists since 1988.
Evora and Barrett have been a romantic item for five years. That is three times as long as he has been Denney's skating partner.
"The stage we're at now, we're still growing as a team," Barrett said. "In the future, we would like to be one of the top things out there. We still have a lot of work to do."
That is how McLaughlin and Brubaker felt two years ago.