Emo­tional vic­tory

Cough­lin, Yankowskas pull off up­set of two Olympic duos

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY AMY SHIP­LEY ship­leya@wash­post.com

John Cough­lin and Caitlin Yankowskas win pairs at na­tion­als with a trib­ute to Cough­lin’s late mother.

greens­boro, n.c.— The idea of work­ing through his sad­ness on the job, of turn­ing the most im­por­tant pro­gram of his skat­ing sea­son into a me­mo­rial for his late mother, ter­ri­fied John Cough­lin.

But they made him do it, his part­ner and coach did. They made him get out on the ice to Franz Schu­bert’s “Ave Maria” and ex­press his feel­ings about the woman who in­tro­duced him to skat­ing, combed his hair back­stage dur­ing his child­hood and stood by his side through­out his ca­reer un­til she died last Feb. 24 at age 48.

In the months af­ter her death, nei­ther Cough­lin, 25, nor Caitlin Yankowskas, 20, dared to imag­ine that the emo­tional trib­ute would help them win their first U.S. ti­tle, as it did Satur­day af­ter­noon at packed Greens­boro Coli­seum. Yankowskas sim­ply hoped it would get Cough­lin back on his feet. She never con­sid­ered it could push them jointly to an up­set vic­tory over last year’s two U.S. Olympic pairs teams.

But af­ter tak­ing the lead in Thurs­day’s short pro­gram at the U.S. Fig­ure Skat­ing Cham­pi­onships, the cou­ple un­veiled the piece that be­gan as ther­apy but had evolved into some­thing pow­er­ful enough to move an en­tire arena. The two earned the high­est score in the long pro­gram to claim the gold medal— their first U.S. medal of any color — with 188.45 points, beat­ing last year’s sil­ver medal win­ners, Amanda Evora and Mark Lad­wig (185.22), and 2010 cham­pi­ons Caydee Den­ney and Jeremy Bar­rett (175.49).

“He is telling me his story, what hap­pened to his mom, and I’m lis­ten­ing to him through­out the pro­gram and en­cour­ag­ing him to tell me,” Yankowskas said. In the be­gin­ning, “We would press ‘ play’ to the mu­sic and get maybe three sec­onds in and we would have to stop. It was just emo­tion­ally very dif­fi­cult.”

At the end of their short pro­gram Thurs­day, Cough­lin grinned joy­ously. He and Yankowskas re­ceived the top marks for ex­e­cu­tion, chore­og­ra­phy and in­ter­pre­ta­tion. They rev­eled in a long and loud ova­tion from the crowd; Cough­lin’s fa­ther sat above, red-eyed and clap­ping. Only later, dur­ing a meet­ing with re­porters, did Cough­lin break down.

“I did not want to do it at first,” he said. “I did not think I’d be able to get through the sea­son, but there was a lot of gen­tle and not-so-gen­tle prod­ding. What I wanted to do was go out and clown around and not ac­knowl­edge what hap­pened, but that would have caught up with me at some point. . . . I’m not artis­tic. I kind of look like a linebacker on the ice some­times; I know that. They kind of helped me take what I was feel­ing and put it on the ice.”

Cough­lin’s mother, Stacy Leigh Holmes, a Catholic, died in the mid­dle of the night af­ter a long bat­tle with an undis­closed ill­ness, but the last thing she told her son — he had rushed to her bed­side af­ter an in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion in South Korea — was to keep skat­ing. She had been pres­i­dent of his home­town skat­ing club in Kansas City, Mo., and a part-time judge. She was a con­stant pres­ence at the rink and, he said, “my best friend in skat­ing.”

Cough­lin and Yankowskas, who are coached by Dalilah Sap­pen­field and Larry Ibarra, will take the pro­gram to the world cham­pi­onships in March in Tokyo. There they will be joined by Lad­wig and Evora, who fin­ished 10th at the Win­ter Games and ninth at last year’s worlds.

Be­fore this sea­son, Yankowskas and Cough­lin had never fin­ished bet­ter than sixth at the U.S. cham­pi­onships or won an in­ter­na­tional medal of any kind.

“I told my­self, no mat­ter what we did to­day, to go out on the ice and per­form that pro­gram was go­ing to be a happy moment for me,” Cough­lin said. “ To per­form it that way was un­be­liev­able.”

Added Cough­lin later, his voice quiv­er­ing: “She was so much skat­ing for me. I think she would be proud that I found out how to keep do­ing that with­out her here phys­i­cally.”

Other re­sults: Meryl Davis and Char­lie White won their third straight U.S. cham­pi­onship in dance, earn­ing 185.48 to top Maia Shibu­tani and Alex Shibu­tani, who scored 173.18. Gam­brills’ Ian Lorello and part­ner Is­abella Can­nus­cio placed sixth with 136.55; Mered­ith Zu­ber and Cen­tre­ville’s Kyle Her­ring fin­ished ninth (118.06); Vi­enna’s Ginna Hopt­man and Pavel Filchenkov were 10th with 117.53; and Kather­ine Pil­grim and Gam­brills’ Alex Lorello got 15th with 80.39. . . .

Ear­lier this week, Rachel and Michael Par­sons of Der­wood won the gold medal in novice dance (112.82); Chevy Chase’s Ross Gudis and El­liana Po­gre­bin­sky were fourth (105.91); Sil­ver Spring’s Mor­gan Grant and Luke Skala earned sev­enth (94.38). Laura Bona­corsi and Ful­ton’s Travis Mager earned the sil­ver in ju­nior dance (127.39); Ger­man­town’s Lor­raine McNamara and Wheaton’s Quinn Car­pen­ter placed ninth (102.99). Ha­ley Dunne of the Washington Fig­ure Skat­ing Club won eighth in ju­nior ladies (132.57); Al­li­son Timlen of El­li­cott City scored 10th (115.64). Ana Draovitch of the Skat­ing Club of North­ern Vir­ginia won eighth in the novice ladies (95.44); Elk­ton’s Vi­viana Mathis scored tenth (91.35).

CHRIS KEANE/REUTERS

John Cough­lin and Caitlin Yankowskas skate to Franz Schu­bert’s “AveMaria” in their gold medal-win­ning per­for­mance at the U.S. Fig­ure Skat­ing Cham­pi­onships.

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