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Denney and Barrett clinch pairs title and Olympic spot

While Barrett and his 16-year-old partner celebrated, two-time defending champions Rockne Brubaker and Keauna McLaughlin left the arena in tears and their Olympic fate in the hands of a selection committee after a crushing fifth-place finish.

While the winners at the U.S. nationals are usually rewarded with coveted Olympic spots, the runners-up do not necessarily join them.

A nine-member selection committee has the final say and can weigh many factors, including past performances and results, leaving the door open a crack for McLaughlin and Brubaker to sneak into the Olympic picture.

An improved free skate moved the pair up to fifth but found out later it was not enough to impress the selection panel.

"It's looking at your track record and what you are capable of doing but it's also about performing when it's on the line, all that is taken into consideration," Brubaker told reporters.

The men's Olympic lineup will be determined after Sunday's free skate.

Jeremy Abbott, the reigning U.S. champion, goes into the free skate leading world champion Evan Lysacek and flamboyant three-time national champion Johnny Weir.

(Writing by Steve Keating in Vancouver; Editing by Alastair Himmer)