Informed that some fans were on their feet as his team's program wound down at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex, U.S. pairs skater John Coughlin said, "I'm just glad we were standing when it ended."
No matter what Coughlin and partner Caydee Denney did Friday night, they were not going to catch Canada's Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch in the finals of the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. But they topped just about anyone's expectations in their first international competition since Coughlin's hip surgery last December and enjoyed every bit of it, judging by Denney's fist-pumping response.
"To be in front of an international panel and amongst other teams that we respect very much is exciting," Coughlin said, "and it's great to be back out here."
The Canadians, who finished fourth in the 2013 World Championships, dominated the long program to complete a solid victory with a 201.30 score. Coughlin/Denney (188.47) and America's Tarah Kayne/Daniel O'Shea (167.27) followed, taking advantage of a disappointing finish for Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir, the current U.S. champions.
Max Aaron (239.21), another U.S. champion, convincingly repeated as the men's winner over Stephen Carriere (225.54) but was disappointed with his long program. "He knows he can't skate like that against the top men," said his coach, Tom Zakrajsek, anticipating the more challenging Grand Prix schedule.
In the ladies' short program, Gracie Gold took the lead during an afternoon event characterized by falls on routine jumps.
Gold, the silver medalist in the 2013 U.S. Championships, posted a 58.49 score to rank ahead of Agnes Zawadzki (56.27) and Courtney Hicks (54.80). Zawadzki beat Gold in this competition last year, but suffered what she described as a "where-am-I?" moment in the middle of her program, with the momentary lapse causing her trouble.
As for the 18-year-old Gold, a fall after a double-axel jump surprised her. "I honestly thought that I had landed it â¦ I really did," she said. "It was strange."
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the reigning world dance champions, took a commanding lead as expected Friday. The Americans (73.67) are ahead of Canadian teams Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (62.61) and Nicole Orford/Thomas Williams.
"This is just the beginning and that's how we're looking at it," Davis said. "Obviously, February's going to be what we're shooting for, but we've got a lot of big competitions where we need to prove ourselves before that."
The finals in the ladies event begin at 3 p.m. Saturday, followed by the free dance.
U.S. International Classic
Where • SLC Sports Complex, 645 S. Guardsman Way
• Ladies Free Skate, 3:30 p.m.
• Free Dance, 6:30 p.m.
• Only general admission tickets will be sold, and only at the SLC Sports Complex during the competition. There is no reserved seating or advance purchase.
•Â All-event tickets cost $30, for entry into all competitions and practices for the duration of the event.
•Â Day-pass tickets cost $10 (they're $5 for seniors and children 12 and under), and allow entry into any event taking place on the day of purchase.