U.S. Figure Skating Championships: Young stars and young love win

McLaughlin and Brubaker take pairs

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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker got the title, John Baldwin Jr. got the girl.

McLaughlin and Brubaker, last year's junior world champions, served notice they're going to be a threat on the senior stage as well, winning the pairs title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships yesterday.

Their overall score of 190.74 was more than seven points ahead of Baldwin and Rena Inoue, two-time U.S. champions. Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, last year's champions, were third. "I can't believe we're national champions," McLaughlin said, her eyes wide.

Inoue and Baldwin have plenty to celebrate, too. As they took their bows, Baldwin dropped to his knees and asked his longtime girlfriend to marry him. "I didn't know. He didn't tell me and I don't think he told anybody," Inoue said. "At first I was just so shocked. I didn't know what was going on here."

Said Baldwin, "We've talked about marriage for a long time, and I always told Rena, 'Well, you can ask me.' She said that's not the way it's done. ... I told her she's the person I want to spend the rest of my life with, how much respect I have for her and that everything I've accomplished in my career and on the ice is because of her."

As the crowd cheered, Baldwin asked again. With tears rolling down her face, Inoue said yes.

The only thing tarnishing the afternoon is the knowledge that McLaughlin and Brubaker won't get to take on the world -- yet.

She only turned 15 in September, missing the age cutoff for the world championships in March by two months.

Still, you can bet the Germans and Chinese will be keeping an eye on these two.

"We want to be the first American team to win the Olympics, that's our big goal," McLaughlin said. "That's my dream."

Later yesterday, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto went for a record-tying fifth consecutive ice dance title, and 14-year-old Mirai Nagasu tried to leave her first senior competition with the women's crown.

The United States has long been mediocre in pairs, but McLaughlin and Brubaker are already defying expectations.

It takes most couples years to develop the harmony and unison of a world-class pairs team, but McLaughlin and Brubaker have had it since they started skating together just two years ago.

They routed the junior ranks last year, winning every competition they entered. They qualified for the senior Grand Prix final -- they had to withdraw after the short program when he developed cellulitis -- and were, without question, the class of the field at nationals.

No one else can match their speed or their power. But they're deceptively graceful, doing every trick with such beauty and control it looks like child's play.

"The first step in doing anything is believing you can do it first," Brubaker said. "From the minute we got together, we had big goals for the team."


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