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Those brave figure skaters

Jan. 28, 2008

by Jesse Menden

At the top of the list of bravest Americans are those that currently are or did serve in one of the branches of the armed forces. What they do for our country almost defies description. The same can be said for those in police and fire departments that protect us at home.

Wednesday night at the Xcel Energy Center during the United States Figure Skating Championships, I may have come across the third-bravest group of people in this country: those 90-pound teenage figure skaters who get spun into the air by their male partners and are expected to land on a piece of metal about the width of a spaghetti noodle.

One of those moves, the throw triple salchow, is a staple in a lot of senior pairs routines, but has to be one of the most dangerous actions in all of sports. Just to review, these girls are spun 10 feet up into the air like a rag doll and try to land on rock-hard ice.

I wouldn’t let somebody do that to me if I was wearing a full football uniform and skating on a trampoline.

The bravery those girls show to allow all of their personal control to be put into the hands of somebody else on slippery ice is nothing short of gutsy.

Ultimately, it was that throw triple salchow (I hope I am not the only one who originally thought it was named after a cow) that drew me to the pairs competition Wednesday. Where else can you get the feeling where you might witness something go really, really well . . . or soul-crushingly bad?

The most impressive thing of it was that at least half of the pairs pulled off the difficult throw. A few of the girls touched their hand to the ice or fell on their behind, but all had a great chance to land it. And even though those were professionals skating around that ice, it was difficult not to hold my breath when the girls were in mid-air.

The top group on the night was Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, who pulled off the throw triple salchow with a gracefulness like that of Helio Castroneves on “Dancing With the Stars.” Brubaker was launched high into the air and she nailed the landing for a perfect salchow. With that move and a nearly flawless routine, the pair easily took the top spot in the short program.

Another staple move in the pairs short program is the male skater holding the female above his head while he skates and does a small spin or two. Once again, I wouldn’t do that with four mattresses taped around my body.

It is one thing to have somebody hold a person above their head on solid ground. It is another to do it on ice, with skates on.

One pair who did that well was Mark Ladwig and Amanda Evora. The two put on one of the more exciting performances of the night. Ladwig, who hails from the Red River Skating Club in Moorhead, was holding and throwing Evora all over the ice on the way to their fourth-place finish.

All in all, the pairs competition was fun to watch. Those brave, daring girls provided plenty of oohs and ahs as they floated in the air above the ice. As entertaining as it was, I would still feel a little more comfortable if they wore full hockey gear, just in case.