2020 U.S. Nationals
Pairs’ Free Skate
Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Christopher Knierim reclaimed their national title in Greensboro on Saturday night, maintaining first place despite a second-place finish in the free skate. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who were fifth last year, captured the silver, while Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea earned the bronze.
Knierim and Knierim weren’t perfect, but their second-place finish (139.09) in the free skate to “Experience” and “Drop of Fragrance” included a solid triple twist, throw triple loop and throw triple Lutz. The mistake came when Chris fell on the triple toes, and they also only landed double Salchows, but earned a level 4 on the death spiral, two lifts and the pair combination spin. The 2016 Four Continents silver medalists were able to main first overall after a total score of 216.15.
“Redemption always feels good,” said Scimeca-Knierim. “It was hard last year, being so low, but we worked hard and we hope this pushes us forward. We are elated to retain our title again. It’s quite an honor and we are proud of that accomplishment (third title), but it is not always about the label and the victory of the gold, sometimes it’s what got you there.”
“Going in, I was nervous,” admitted Christopher Knierim. “Last year, I don’t think I rotated anything in the free program. Those demons sort of come up for a second, especially in a six-minute warm up. After anyone makes a mistake, especially in an environment like that, you don’t forget about it. I didn’t know I made a mistake until I finished. It’s not the first time it’s happened, I have done it before, so I need to keep going.”
“After we placed seventh last year, we lost a sponsor, and we did not know that until after we moved to California,” added Scimeca-Knierim. “We are fortunate to have coaches who support us. They want our health and relationship to come first. We had some things that we had to get rid of to make us stronger.”
“We both mind our own business,” she responded, when asked about training with Calalang and Johnson. “We are very professional and very mature—it’s a very healthy and stable environment. This has helped us push forward, and I couldn’t be prouder of the way they skated. I watched them backstage, because I genuinely care for them.”
“The training environment is amazing,” agreed Knierim. “We respect each other. Brian comes over and works on cars and things. On the ice, we go about things. We are a team, but we focus on ourselves, and Jenni and Todd do a great job managing both of us. We usually switch off Jenni and Todd each session. One will have one, one will have the other, so it is a great dynamic.”
“Moving to California, we had to learn a lot and sacrifice a lot because it was so expensive,” he added. “I had to sell all my cars, so now I ride a motorcycle. I had to sell the Camaro. We sacrificed a lot to be there, but we are thankful it payed off.”
Calalang and Johnson put out a very strong routine to “You Are the Reason,” landing a triple twist, triple toe-double toes, triple Salchow, and a throw triple Salchow and triple Lutz. The 2019 CS Warsaw Cup champions also earned a level 4 on all lifts and the pair combination spin to score a whopping 146.01 points for first place in the free skate. With a total score of 213.57, they rose from fourth to second overall.
“We are both really excited to perform our free program like that at the US Championships,” said Calalang.
“We’ve been with Todd and Jenni for a long time, and we have always been like the older kids,” she said. “We were really good role models, but now we look up to them (Alexa and Chris). They have been to the Olympics, our coaches have been to the Olympics. The beginning of this season, we were trying to get two senior B’s and take it one thing at a time. Then we got Skate Canada, then Skate America, and it was like ‘Wow, this is happening.’ We really wanted to stay in the moment all season. We were just happy to be skating the way we skated at home. I don’t think it has sunk in yet.”
“We couldn’t be happier with our training coaches and partners,” added Johnson. “We get a long really well. We are fortunate enough to have one of the best-looking rinks in the country, the new rink in Irvine. Repetition always helps. The more you do something, the better you are going to be. The amount of audience support at the end of that program was overwhelming. It’s the most amazing thing I have felt on the ice. I don’t have words to describe it.”
Skating to Les Miserables, Kayne and O’Shea landed a level 2 triple twist, triple Salchow-Euler-double toes and double Axels. Two lifts and the spin were graded a level 4, but she put a foot down on both the throw triple Salchow and throw triple Lutz. The 2018 Four Continents champions scored 133.72 for third place in the free skate and overall (204.07).
“It wasn’t a bad program today, we went out there and stood up on everything,” said O’Shea. “We left some points out there, but it’s an improvement as the program has progressed over the first part of the season. We are taking steps in the right direction, and hopefully, we’ll have a chance to do it again. Over time, we have learned an awful lot, overcome some super serious injuries and been through the ups and downs of life, so I think we have grown really well together and that shows on the ice—the maturity of how to handle things. I couldn’t be more proud of her.”
Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc put up a good fight in their moving performance to “The Middle of the World” and “Experience,” landing a level 4 triple twist and triple toes, however, she two-footed the landing of the throw triple Lutz and the last jump in the triple Salchow-double toe-double loops. The 2018 Four Continents silver medalists finished fourth in the free skate (128.26) and slipped to fourth overall (197.12).
“We really wanted to put out a special product tonight,” said LeDuc. “Both of us really tried our absolute hardest. We never gave up on anything. It just wasn’t in the cards for us today. As athletes, you want results. It’s just hard when those don’t come, but sometimes the victories are inside. In ways I didn’t know we were capable of, we pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zone. I know those are the things that are going to progress us in the future as we move towards an Olympic berth, hopefully.”
“We just tried to do a better job that the last competition,” said Cain-Gribble. “We are proud of ourselves for fighting together. That shows we are champions, that we didn’t give up.”
Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier moved up one spot from fifth to sixth overall (186.25) after their performance to Lion King Returns. The team, which took bronze at both Grand Prix events this season, produced a very strong triple twist and throw triple loop as well as level 4 lifts, however, she took a fall on the throw triple Salchow. They also struggled on the side-by-side jumps and finished fifth in the free skate with 124.92 points.
“We did our job there,” said Denney regarding pleasing the audience, “but the second half, the technical part, we were lacking.”
Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov placed sixth (181.49) followed by Olivia Serafini and Mervin Tran (171.21).
“We are still a young team,” Mitrofanov pointed out. “We plan on skating for the next two years, to the Olympics. We take it year by year and keep improving.”