The pairs free skate concludes this afternoon at the U.S. National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. Looking at the event, I'd say it really is Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin's to lose. They had the momentum coming into the competition and they were the only ones with an amazing program in the short on Thursday. But there's something else they are exhibiting. They are looking so cohesive and it seems like every time they skate this season, they have more connection and more speed and more confidence. I think they'll have to make errors in order to lose, which is not a rarity in pairs skating, but I really think this is their competition. They are skating an emotional free skate to Ave Maria, dedicated to Coughlin's mother who died last year. Hopefully the emotion will propel them to a great performance.
Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, reigning silver medalists, appear to be headed for another silver or possibly bronze finish. They have nice qualities but they don't have as much personality on the ice and less speed and power than Yankowskas and Coughlin. Hopefully they can do their famous lifts and rack up some points that way, but they have to keep the error count very low in order to make their second world team.
Mary Beth Marley, who is so teeny tiny out there, and Rockne Brubaker, obviously have won the judges over. They made some little mistakes on Thursday but finished in third place at their first nationals together. That's kind of a big deal. The judges like them and Marley seems solid on the jumps, so if they can put together another skate like that today, who knows, anything could happen. They are still a new pair but they exhibit a lot of potential and we know Brubaker is a strong skater and Marley is a singles skater still, so hopefully their technical side will come together swiftly.
Reigning champs Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett are going to need a great skate and some mistakes by the others if they want to repeat as champs. They get lower presentation marks than the top two, and Yankowskas and Coughlin are starting to pull away in that mark even more. So it really is up to these two to feel the music and skate clean. Their skating is not as pretty as the top three teams here, so that is a disadvantage, but their experience should get them on the podium. If they miss worlds for the first time in three years, though, it will be pretty devastating.
Marissa Castelli and Scott Shnapir as well as Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin have a very outside chance of medaling...it would take the skates of their lives, I think, combined with a zamboni-fest by the others. Again, this is pairs, so anything can happen.