Spotlight on John Coughlin
An Unseen Skaters special. January 5, 2005.
John Coughlin turned 19 on December 1, 2004. He represents the Silver Blades FSC of Kansas City and his long-time coaches are Randy and Sharon Brilliantine. He is making his second appearance at Nationals in singles and first as a Junior man. He placed 6th in Junior Pairs at 2004 Nationals with his former partner. Coughlin plans to resume his pairs career in the 2005-06 season with his new partner, Bridget Namiotka.
How would you describe and summarize your performances at Southwestern Regionals (4th) and Midwestern Sectionals (3rd) this season?
Regionals was very difficult for me this year because the week before the competition I was diagnosed with a fracture in my left [non-landing] foot. I had had pain off and on throughout the season, and in fact had withdrawn from Liberty and Skate Detroit. Nothing was showing up on x-ray, and I was just trying to skate through it, thinking maybe I had plantar fascitis or something else I could just learn to live with. Well, it became unbearable about 10 days before Regionals. My coach took me to a doctor who specializes in treating injuries in young athletes. This doctor was amazing. He was determined to find out what was wrong and began a series of tests. One was an MRI with contrast. On the MRI it looked like a lightning bolt went from the front of my left outside edge all the way through my heel. That was the fracture. My doctor put me in a walking cast which he said I could take off for one hour a day. Since there are no medical byes anymore, I knew if I wanted a chance to go to Sectionals I had to compete. I really wanted to try. My doctor agreed that I could do it, as long as I stayed in the cast for the agreed upon 23 out of 24 hours. He said I wouldn't make it any worse, but he made me promise to take a complete rest and keep the cast on all the time for 2 weeks after Regionals. Well, with the support of my family, my coach, and my skating friends, I got through Southwesterns by the skin of my teeth. I felt sort of crazy walking around an athletic event all week in a cast, but, it was worth it. I came home and stayed off the ice and pretty much off the foot entirely, for two weeks then went back for one week of only stroking, spins and footwork, then one week of jumping before Midwestern Sectionals. It was one of the wildest experiences I've ever had.
Going into Sectionals, I knew no one really considered me a contender since I was the 4th place finisher out of Regionals. I skated my short program really happy just to be on the ice able to do my triple lutz-double toe and my triple loop. I was so excited, thinking I was on my way to a clean program, when BAM, reality check. I was in the last few seconds of my program and had some sort of out of body experience, and, of all things, missed the double axel. I remember thinking, "Here I am again, right back where I was last year," behind after the short and needing to pull off some sort of a miracle to move up into the top 4. My long program ended up being one of the best skating experiences I have ever had. I've been working so hard all year to improve my artistic mark, but still trying to maintain consistency in my jumps. I completely understand why even top level skaters sometimes start to fade towards the end of their long program as their connecting moves get more choreographically complex. It is really hard to do interesting steps, musical interpretation and connecting moves plus do six or seven triples. I think I did all my jumps, including two triple lutzes, a triple loop, salchow, two triple toes, and, of course the double axel (my friends and family cheered especially loud for that...I don't ever think they will let me live down that I missed it in the short). I two-footed my triple flip a bit, but, aside from that, for me, it was a good program. As I was reaching the end of the program, I was just so happy to have done my job, after the really difficult season, I just couldn't stop smiling. I could hear everyone cheering me on and it felt so great. I was so excited I guess I kind of spaced out some of the choreography at the end. It was so great standing there just soaking up the sound of all my skating friends clapping and making noise. I could have stayed on the ice forever. After I got off the ice, I realized that was only the second time I had competed that program all season. When the marks came up it was icing on the cake. As my skating friends and I said about that competition, "Never a dull moment!"
How do you feel about qualifying for "big" Nationals in singles for the second time in three years?
The first year I qualified for "Big" Nationals, it was in Novice pairs [in 2000-2001]. That year, however, right after Sectionals, my pair partner, Kelsey Parker, slid into the boards while we were just stroking and got injured. We had to withdraw. I was so disappointed. The year before, she and I had qualified for Junior Nationals in Intermediate pairs and I had also qualified in Intermediate Men. I made it to the final round in both pairs and singles at that Junior Nationals, and Kelsey and I actually were put on the U.S. Developmental Team as a result of our finish. We even got a North American Challenge! It was an exciting year.
One of my biggest goals in skating has been to become a respected competitor in both pairs and singles. So, qualifying for Nationals in Junior Men this year means a lot to me in many ways. It makes me feel validated as both a singles and a pairs skater, since I have competed at Nationals in Intermediate, Novice, and Junior in both disciplines. I feel like it proves that with proper motivation, a supportive family and friends and good, consistent coaching, you can get there from here, no matter where here is.
When and how did you begin skating?
My older sister saw Debi Thomas on TV in the 1988 Olympics. She wanted to skate, so my Mom looked in the phonebook to see if there was an ice rink in town. My sister started skating in group classes when she was three years old, so I was literally carried in to the rink when I was a little over one year old. I didn't actually get on the ice, though, until I was four. I went right into private lessons with my sister's coaches, Randy and Sharon Brilliantine, and I really took to it. I even did figures! I got my axel when I was five. I remember my sister and I were selected to skate in a performance of the Ice Capades when they came through Kansas City. I wore a tuxedo and did my axel, which I remember thinking was just as big as Viktor Petrenko's. Right after that, my sister had to stop skating, so I did, too.
I played baseball a lot for the next several years, took karate lessons, played basketball with kids in the neighborhood, went to camp, went fishing and even hunting with my dad, lots of fun things. But, I kept wanting to go back to skate. I didn't get to go back, though, until my Mom's best friend's little girl asked me to come back to skate Juvenile Pairs with her. So, at age nine, I went back to the rink, back to Randy and Sharon Brilliantine, and started skating Juvenile Pairs with Krista Smith. We had a blast. I remember that as being just pure fun. A kind of unexpected thing happened, though. I started getting fairly good in singles, too. Doing two events, there just wasn't much time left over for all the other sports I was doing. So, I narrowed it down to baseball and skating. A few years later, I decided if I was going to be really good at either one, I better choose one thing and concentrate on it. That was when, much to everybody's surprise, I quit playing baseball, and skating became the main focus of my life. I still love to go out hunting and fishing with my Dad, but we don't get to do it as much as either one of us would like.
What have been some of the more memorable moments in your skating career so far?
I have been fortunate to have so many incredible experiences and opportunities in my skating career thus far. I'd have to say that overcoming my injuries and the resulting lack of training time to qualify for Nationals this year is near the top of my list. Listening to my friends cheer for me because I had done everything I could was a highlight in my career.
Another memory that will stay with me always was the entire experience at my NACS [North American Challenge Skate] in the summer of 2003. My team and team leaders were the "all stars" of good friends. I love the feeling of being part of a team. To be able to contribute a Gold medal [in the novice menís event] to the list of our team's accomplishments and help preserve the U.S. dominance in the Series was a special moment for me. It was the first time that I heard the national anthem played because of my placement. If I wasn't hooked on competing before, there was no doubt after that experience. It was truly indescribable. I wanted to have that feeling again. I think that is what keeps me going in skating ... that desire to contribute something to the U.S. Team and hear our national anthem played because of something I did or took part in. I wish I could share a piece of that with every skater out there. It is incredible.
Competing in Junior Grand Prix events in Japan and Poland in Junior Pairs [with Lucy Galleher] last year were also wonderful team experiences. As silly as it may sound, getting the Team USA apparel in the mail was one of the most exciting things ever! This year, just recently, actually, I got the letter asking if I agreed to compete in the World Championships if selected to do so. That was the first time I had been at a level to get that letter. I realize USFS probably sends that to everybody age eligible and at the right level to even be considered, but, man, I signed that thing as fast as I could and faxed it back immediately. I love getting USFS mail!
What were your previous experiences like at Nationals (2003 in novice singles, 2004 in junior pairs) and what did you learn?
Novice singles in Dallas in 2003 was all about just making it. I had had a great run throughout the season, winning Southwestern Regionals and getting the Silver medal at Midwestern Sectionals. I had a double axel, a triple toe and a triple salchow. I arrived at "Big" Nationals and was like a wide-eyed kid in a candy store. I was in awe of just being in the elevator with people like Sasha Cohen. Having a photo credential which got me into special "competitors only" places was even a huge thrill for me. I was utterly star struck by everything and everyone there, so much so that I apparently forgot how to do much of anything that actually involved my skating! My 11th place finish pretty much speaks for itself. I think I landed a triple toe in my long program. I definitely learned that I need to be a competitor and not a tourist when I qualify for a competition. I felt awful after I skated so poorly, especially because a lot of my friends from our club came down to watch me. I felt like I had blown an opportunity, and let everyone, especially myself, down. I came out of that experience motivated like never before. By the time I got to my North American Challenge in singles that summer, we had added all triples through lutz, and I could actually land them under pressure.
In 2004 in Junior Pairs, I was much more focused on why I was there. I was still excited and honored to be a National competitor, but I had learned how to handle the exhilaration of bumping into my skating idols in the competitor's lounge and elevator!
What has been the biggest challenge or disappointment that you have overcome in your skating career?
Skating seems to be a sport full of disappointments and setbacks. The biggest disappointment, I think, was when Kelsey Parker, my Intermediate and Novice pair partner, got hurt and we had to miss Nationals. After two seasons of working our way up from nowhere, getting better each time we competed, that was really hard. I felt really powerless, because there was nothing I could have done to prevent her injury, and there was nothing I could do to make her heal faster. The waiting for her to get better and come back was agonizing. I was really devastated when she later decided to quit skating pairs and wrap up her competitive skating altogether so she could enjoy high school and be a cheerleader. But, we had been friends since we were both toddlers, and I wanted her to do what would make her happiest, so, sad as it was for me, I had to accept her decision and wish her well. I'm glad we parted on such good terms. We are really great friends to this day.
I didn't want to rush into skating pairs with just anyone after that, though. I think sometimes people rush into partnerships just so they won't miss a season, and I didn't want to do that. It took me awhile to find just the right partner, but, eventually, at what was then called the USFSA Pair and Dance auditions in Colorado Springs, I met Lucy Galleher, and she moved here to be my Junior level partner. We competed for two seasons. She moved back to Denver at the end of the last school year to go to college and be close to her family. We are still very good friends. In fact, I'm very still good friends with the three girls I have skated pairs with.
Another big disappointment was coming up short at Midwestern Sectionals last year - my first year in Junior men. I was so close last year to qualifying in both events for Nationals, and I really wanted another opportunity to skate singles at "Big" Nationals. I skated a jump-packed long program, but came up just short of making it in singles. I was an alternate, but it was still very disappointing.
I was disappointed about my injury this season before Regionals, but, in the end, I was grateful to get the correct diagnosis for my foot, find out what to do to get it healed, and be able to perform well enough at Sectionals to earn another chance to skate at Nationals.
Do you have an embarrassing or humorous moment on the ice that you're willing to share?
By far the most embarrassing moment in my skating career was at Nationals in Dallas in 2003. I had a very rough free skate, which included several falls, and I wanted to forget it as soon as possible. The next day, when I woke up and opened the door to my room to go eat breakfast, I saw the local Dallas paper. On the cover of the sports section, there was a picture of me during my program, falling on the ice! In a caption below it said, "This is John Coughlin, on his way to an 11th place finish." I got down to breakfast, and EVERYONE had seen it. I was at the wrong end of quite a few jokes for the rest of the week, but now, even I will admit it was funny. My Mom put a copy of that paper in my big box of skating memory things, but it's not something I want to look at.
How long have you been working with your current coaches and how would you describe their respective coaching styles?
Randy and Sharon Brilliantine have been my head coaches since I started skating. They are almost like family to me. We have been together so long that I understand all of their technique "vocabulary," and they in turn know exactly what I need to hear in order to perform my best. It is nice to have a husband/wife teaching team, because if I am not quite getting something, sometimes the other one of them can say it slightly differently and then I will understand. We work hard, but we have fun, too. We are all working towards the same goal, and I feel like we are a team.
What are your goals for this Nationals? Will you be making any significant changes in your programs for Nationals?
This year at nationals, I just want to skate the way I know I can skate. I want to do my own personal best, and then leave the rest in the hands of the judges. If I had to pick a placement, I would have to say I'd be very, very happy with a finish in the top half. The Junior men's field is so deep this year. I couldn't believe how strong the Junior men were at Midwesterns, so Nationals is really going to be something! As far as adding things or making changes, my long program remains a work in progress. We keep adding new and more difficult connecting moves, trying to get me ready for the new judging system. I am also going to do a triple-triple at Nationals. Right now the plan is triple lutz-triple toe, but we will do whatever is working best once we get there. I am also spinning a lot. A lot! Trying to make everything more interesting, faster, a little bit more complicated.
What music are you using this season? How do you usually pick your skating music?
This was the first year using outside, professional choreographers for my programs. Tom Dickson watched a tape of me skating and then sent me several pieces of music to listen to. We talked about what I like and how I move on the ice. My coach listened to the music with me and then we told Mr. Dickson which pieces we liked. He cut the short program music -- "Since I Don't Have You" and "Caravan" -- and had it for me when I went to Colorado to get the short program choreographed. My short program is fun, kind of jazzy, a program I can enjoy and interact with the audience doing. After Regionals I worked with a local coach, Jim Mullen, who used to be a show skater, and he helped me more with the footwork.
The long program is completely different. I wanted something powerful and patriotic - something more serious. Randy and I listened to a lot of music and I really liked all three of the movie soundtracks, The Rock, Armageddon, and Crimson Tide. Fortunately, Randy was able to layer them onto one another and make one seamless piece of music. I worked with Diane Agle on the choreography. She helped me feel each beat of the music. After Regionals, Randy asked another one of our coaches here in Kansas City, Marina Eltsova, to help me with the footwork. So now I have a different, Russian looking footwork sequence. More edges. Very unlike my short, but it stretches me artistically, which I need.
What was it like to work with Tom Dickson, and can you give me any specific examples from his choreography of how he challenged you as a skater/performer?
Mr. Dickson talked to me about using my entire body to express the music, not just my arms. He tried to use connecting moves which had substance and weren't just "trendy," (for example excessive running on the toes). He wanted me to show edge quality and use a variety of turns and transitions. He helped expand my limited choreographic vocabulary. Mr. Dickson talked about using the entire rink as if it lead all the way up to the sky. I wasn't really used to extending my movements and tended to "throw away" choreography. He encouraged me to understand that I need to finish each movement. I know I have a long way to go in this process, but it has been exciting to see that I am capable of doing some different and more challenging steps, turns and positions. It will be interesting to see how we can further develop this program for next season, as I am going to try to keep extending myself beyond my skating comfort zone. With the new judging system, it is really a must.
What do you feel are the strongest and weakest aspects of your skating?
My strength has been my consistency. I skate the way I practice. I am fairly predictable. This year I have worked on improving my speed, stretch, connecting moves and on keeping my eyes up when I skate.
What improvements have you made in your skating this season?
This season I have spent a great deal of time trying to improve the quality of my spin positions, connecting moves, and complexity of my choreography. I think I have made some positive strides in all of those categories, but I am far from where I want to be. Hopefully, with some injury free training time I will show everyone at Nationals what I have been working towards for this season, and that I recognize the areas which need improvement and am willing and ready to take criticism from the judges and fix things when I am asked to do so.
What is your current favorite jump, spin and connecting move?
My favorite jump is definitely my triple lutz. It seems to weather the storms of boot changes and bad days and it has pulled me out of the fire and back into the frying pan on more than one occasion. As much as it shocks me to say this, I must admit that my favorite spin is my camel spin. I have spent so many years doing terrible, I mean really bad, camel spins, and getting ridiculed by everyone and their mother. Finally after a couple of years needing them in both short and long for pairs and singles, I have worked it up to adequate. I am not by nature a flexible person, and it is something I struggle with just to maintain. That is by no means satisfying, but I am thrilled with my camel spin's progress. It's probably something many people take for granted, but the camel spin has been my nemesis for a long time! My connecting moves have been a point of focus for me this season. My new footwork sections are fun and exciting to me. I finally found a style of movement in my footwork that is challenging and hopefully entertaining to watch.
What do you like about pair skating, and do you have any plans to skate pairs again in the 2005-06 season?
I really enjoy having a partner to share the thrill of competition. It is really satisfying to have someone by your side who really understands everything that goes into creating those few moments of skating because they have lived every day of training it along side you. I enjoy being part of a team. It's like anything good. It just gets better when you share it with someone else.
I am really excited to have a new pair partner for next season. I'm skating now with Bridget Namiotka. She and I just put together our first show program and had our first performance together at our rink's Holiday Recital on December 18. We will start training full time after I get back from Nationals. Bridget has national Novice pairs experience and is very, very easy to work with. She is extremely enthusiastic, fearless, and fun to be around. We have a very similar line and everyone says we look like we could be brother and sister. I can't wait to get back into the pair world! We will be based here in Kansas City but will travel back to Delaware so she can be with her family frequently, so we will skate out there, too.
What are your long-term goals in skating as well as off the ice?
My long-term goals are to represent the U.S. in senior internationals in both singles and pairs. I would like to do a little bit of show skating, too. I am intrigued by ensemble skating numbers. I want skating to be a part of my life for a long time. I want to be a judge and a team leader.
I want to finish my B.A., either in one of the social sciences or a communication art. When I am through with actually competing and performing as a skater, and I have my degree, I plan to follow in my father, grandfather and great-grandfather's footsteps and work in law enforcement. I also want a family and children, obviously. I hope to continue judging and hopefully be a team leader, though, even while I am working in law enforcement.
Do you have any similarly athletic siblings or family members?
I have one sister, Angela, age 20. She was the one who led my family into figure skating. She skated competitively back when figures were a part of qualifying competitions, but she only competed to the Juvenile level. She really loved doing figures, if you can imagine that. She is now in college, studying to be a teacher. She skates recreationally, usually only in the winter. Really, no one in my family is that athletic. My Dad played football and did track and field in high school, but spends all of his time working now. My mother is exceptionally non-athletic, although she used to be a USFSA Low test judge back when my sister was skating. She took some skating lessons when my sister was little, too, but she says she stopped when she got to waltz jump. She says she liked to have one foot on the ice at all times!
Who are your favorite skaters and why?
I really admire Kurt Browning's showmanship and the way he is always pushing himself to develop as an artist. He is definitely my favorite current show skater. He is a skater that can keep you interested even if he doesn't do a single jump. I would love to be able to interpret music the way he does, interact with the audience and be as entertaining as he is. I like the way he just keeps getting better and better, trying new things, making pieces of music come alive on the ice.
I also admire Todd Eldredge. He is a complete package as a skater, in my opinion. He has incredible spins, and he makes jumps look effortless. I admire his determination and longevity in the eligible skating ranks. Other skaters have come and gone, just been a flash in the pan, but he has managed to keep going, been able to stay focused. He seems to take responsibility for his own skating, be it good or bad on any particular day. He doesn't make excuses. I admire his entire work ethic in general.
Which persons have influenced your skating the most and how?
My coaches have influenced me the most. They believe in me and keep me believing in myself. At times when I was ready to give up, they knew I could go on, and have pushed me until I started seeing for myself that I can do it. My family influences my skating, too. When I was younger they were not just supportive, but actively at the rink and encouraging me to always push to be better on a day to day basis. The older I get, they continue to support me, but, they also encourage me to be more and more in control of my own skating. Even though I want to make everyone proud of me - my coaches, my parents, my friends, my club - I need to do it for myself. I think at some point a skater needs a parent to keep them on track but there comes a time when the skater has to be able to motivate themselves, at least most of the time. My family has been just the right balance of these two things. I think this is good because you have to skate for yourself and not anyone else.
What are some of your off ice hobbies? What do you like to do for fun away from the ice?
I really enjoy being with my friends, or in the case of most of my skating friends, talking to them on the phone or by email. I am a huge music fan and have quite a collection of a wide range of musical styles. I love to dance and my favorite thing is going to the competitor's party at the end of a successful competition. I enjoy my dog, a beagle named Ben, even though he is really grumpy.
I recently completed making a music video produced, written and directed by a good friend from my high school. It is entered in a contest run by the band Yellowcard. I actually did a spin holding the camera and did a jump over the camera.
I like to fish. I like to play basketball. I'm a die hard [Kansas City] Chiefs [pro football] fan! I am a sports fanatic in general and watch ESPN like a fiend. I watch the same episode of SportsCenter TWICE just to be sure I don't miss anything.
What is your current schooling arrangement? What are your favorite and least favorite subjects?
Right now I am going to college part time at Johnson County Community College because it is just a few minutes from the rink and I can minimize driving time by going there. I am trying to get some basic classes out of the way before I transfer to either the University of Missouri at Kansas City or Kansas University. My least favorite classes are anything to do with math. I really enjoy social sciences and psychology, but also find I do well in speech and drama.
What is it about skating that motivates you to keep going day in and day out?
I enjoy so many things about skating. I have to say the most satisfying thing is also the most rare, though. If you work very hard and are very lucky, there are a couple of minutes each year, when all the sweat, the falling (over and over again), the early, dark, cold mornings, the nights you'd rather be out with your friends but you know you need to get to bed, the skipping an extra slice of apple pie because you know you rotate fastest at a specific weight, the scrimping on everything else in you and your family's life so you can afford to get to a competition, the doing just a few more weight reps so you are sure your pair partner will feel secure in a lift... There are a few minutes when it all comes together and you are on that ice at the end of a good program, and the feeling is so indescribably great that you are hooked for another season. That is what keeps me motivated to keep skating.
Name: John Coughlin
Date of Birth: December 1, 1985
Place of Birth: Kansas City, Missouri
Height: 6' 2"
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Training Town: Kansas City, Missouri
Home Club: Silver Blades FSC of Kansas City
Coaches: Randy and Sharon Brilliantine
Choreographer for SP: Tom Dickson, with additional footwork by Jim Mullen
Choreographer for FS: Diane Agle, with additional footwork by Marina Eltsova
Photographs courtesy of John Coughlin. Headshot copyright © Steve Attig. Skating photograph copyright © Local Motion Productions. Skate photograph copyright © Dave Amorde. Unless otherwise noted, all content is copyright © 2000-2005 Unseen Skaters. All Rights Reserved. Do not reproduce elsewhere without permission.