Rena Inoue had five stitches in her left knee, souvenir of a crash into the boards while landing a throw triple loop, and a grimace on her face. But after a series of terrible and often terrifying performances scrambled the standings Friday, she and her partner, John Baldwin Jr., had a bronze medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and a berth at the World Championships. That made the Santa Monica couple's pain more bearable.
"I don't think we're going to let this keep us away," said Baldwin, who competed in singles for 14 years before teaming with Inoue in 2001. "We had to expect a miracle for this to happen. I'm not religious but I'll think about becoming religious."
Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn of Newark, Del., won their first U.S. title despite several major mistakes. Kathryn Orscher and Garrett Lucash moved up from fourth to second, and Inoue and Baldwin rose from fifth to third. Stephanie Kalesavich and Aaron Parchem dropped from second to fifth.
Inoue, 26, and Baldwin, 29, train at Aliso Viejo and Paramount. Baldwin began his skating career around the time the couple's coach, Jill Watson, won the 1988 Olympic pairs bronze medal with Peter Oppegard.
"I think for John quite honestly, it's validation," Watson said. "I have a special, special feeling with this team I'll probably never have with my other teams. I've never seen two people work so hard."
The top three duos will compete at the Four Continents event Feb. 10-16 in Beijing before the World Championships, March 24-30 in Washington. "It feels fantastic," said Baldwin, who carried Inoue from the locker room to the post-event news conference. "Being at worlds in the U.S. was a dream for us."
Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev's fifth ice dance title was the highlight of a season clouded by Lang's leg injury and a challenge from rising stars Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto.
"It's been a stressful week and a stressful season for us," Lang said after she and Tchernyshev capitalized on their rivals' gaffe in the free dance and moved up from second place. "I'm happy we could go out and put out these strong performances."
Two-time U.S. women's bronze medalist Angela Nikodinov of San Pedro, 11th after the short program, withdrew because of a recurring shoulder injury.... Dennis Phan of Palm Desert won the junior men's title, rising from second with a long program that was ranked first by six of nine judges.