Scott and Dulebohn Shine Under the Spotlight

Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn

It was the program they had waited two years to do. Tonight in the championship pairs short program at the 2003 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn ticked off the elements to their "Heartbreak Hotel" program, leaving the other teams far behind.

"We did feel very confident. It felt easy," Dulebohn said. "I tried to feed off that confidence. We had a really difficult time doing [the short program well] in the Grand Prix season. We did two of our three long programs clean, but we always seemed to have trouble with the short early in the season. I was really happy we went out there and stuck it like I know we can do."

With three-time pairs champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman retired from eligible competition, Scott and Dulebohn were heirs apparent to the pairs throne, having finished second the last three seasons.

"I feel like I have a responsibility to do well, but not a pressure," Scott said. "It kind of relaxed me. Today, all day, I felt really relaxed, and I think I've finally figured out how to do that."

After nailing their side-by-side triple toes and a flowing throw triple Salchow, Scott and Dulebohn showed polish and maturity in their other elements. The spiral sequence had flair. The overhead lift was held longer than the other teams. With the technical elements under control, the performance level reached new heights.

Stephanie Kalesavich and Aaron Parchem placed second, skating their "El Conquistador" program. Their split double twist was huge, and the side-by-side spins highlighted their unison.

"The field is wide open this year, that's for sure," Parchem said. "Our main goal is to get to Worlds. We'd like to be top 10 in Worlds."

The United States gets three pairs for the World Figure Skating Championships in Washington, D.C., this March.

In third place are Larisa Spielberg and Craig Joeright. After placing third at the 2000 U.S. Championships, Spielberg and Joeright have not made it back to the podium.

"Injuries set us back for a while," Spielberg said. "We had to build up and get our confidence back. Our main goal is to skate how we're skating in practice."

Although Spielberg had to step out of her side-by-side triple toe, she had no problem with the throw triple loop. Their overhead lift had complex inverted positions and was a highlight of their program.

Katie Orscher and Garrett Lucash continued their improvement as a team, placing fourth. They landed side-by-side triple toes and a throw triple Salchow. Rena Inoue and John Baldwin Jr., especially on their side-by-side triple toes, suffered some mistakes that left them in fifth.

"My tap toe just slipped [on the triple toe] and I couldn't get up in the air. There was just no chance," Inoue explained.

But Scott and Dulebohn were clearly the stars of the night and showed they are ready to wear the U.S. crown.

"Our goal - all season long - has been to skate two clean performances in the same competition," Dulebohn said.

Friday night (7:10 p.m.) is the pairs free skate. Everyone will know soon enough who can reach their goals.

by Michelle Wojdyla