The pair from Sydney have been competing together since 1998 and won their first senior national title in 2007. Seven years later and they are stronger than ever and en route to their debut Olympic Winter Games.
“It felt really good out there today, a lot better than our short dance yesterday,” 23-year-old O’Brien said.
“I really noticed the crowd a lot more, I could feel their energy and I was able to use it in my performance.”
O’Brien and Merriman’s free routine, based around circus elements, perfectly captures the natural larrikinism the pair embodies on and off the ice.
Nineteen-year-old Brendan Kerry entered the long program as the second-ranked athlete behind David Kranjec who touched him out for the top spot in the short by 0.42 points. Kerry got the better of him in the free skate however, taking out the national title ahead of Kranjec.
It was Kerry’s second senior title, having also won in 2011, but importantly it was his first chance to debut his Olympic free skate routine in competition.
“My coaches won’t be too happy with it,” Kerry said. “I popped a few jumps which is not okay, I was a bit lazy and missed some of my steps.”
After securing Olympic qualification, Kerry and his coaches decided to put together a new free skate with more difficult technical elements including two quad jumps.
Although he popped the quad jump today, Kerry was happy to have put together his new routine giving him vital competition practice ahead of the Four Continents and Olympics.
For the first time, Kerry has also brought character to his free performance – something he finds more difficult than the technical elements of the skating itself. Kerry will be channelling a French waiter in his program.
“It doesn’t come naturally to me,” he said of the performance aspect of his routine. “I would rather go out there and be serious and just skate, but I know it’s important so I’m working on it.”
And how will he be working on it? French restaurants will be an important feature. Along with watching some famous movies recommended by his choreographer for him to really get into character.
Representing Victoria, Brooklee Han won her first senior national title, grabbing top spot in the senior ladies’ event with a combined score of 161.42.
“It’s really exciting,” 18-year-old Han said. “It’s my first national title so I’m happy with that.”
After falling on her first jump, Han recovered to put together a strong free skate to earn 102.81.
“Overall it was not perfect,” she said. “I’ve been training it much better and it went a lot better this morning in practice. But there were parts of it that I was very happy with. After falling on the first [jump] I was happy to get the second one down in combination.”
Falling is a part and parcel of figure skating, but how the athlete recovers is paramount to their overall performance.
“Sometimes it can be tough,” Han said. “There’s a quote from another skater that I like to think of though – ‘Every program begins again with every new element’. If you make a mistake, it’s in the past and you have to move on.
“I have a lot to take with me from this competition. I am trying to push myself faster into jumps. This was a nice event and different to others I have skated in. I hope to take the positive energy from the crowd home with me for the rest of the season.”
All four national champions will now return to their training bases in the USA as they prepare for their next big competition, the Four Continents Championships taking place in Taipei from 20 – 26 January.
Alice Wheeler | sochi2014.olympics.com.au