It was a golden debut for the newly-formed U.S. team of Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Brandon Frazier in the Pairs’ event at 2020 Guaranteed Rate Skate America on Saturday in Las Vegas, Nev. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson and Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov also won their first Grand Prix medals—silver and bronze, respectively.
Scimeca Knierim and Frazier opened their program to “Fall on Me” with a super level 3 triple twist followed by side-by-side triple toe-double toes. The team landed a very good throw triple loop throw triple Lutz, and the only error came when Scimeca Knierim brushed the ice with her free foot on the triple Salchows. They also showed a nice group 5 Axel and reverse lift, which were graded a level 4, and scored 140.58 for first in the free skate and overall (214.77).
“We’re very happy with the progress we’ve made this week,” said Frazier. “We had to make a lot of adjustments in the last few weeks after the virtual challenge, and coming here, we had small goals we were trying to meet and we made progress. We are just very satisfied with the foundation we built.”
Scimeca Knierim revealed that she had made a joke to Frazier when they got their scores that “this partnership is going to work.”
“I really didn’t have any doubts prior,” she said. “It’s always great to have a successful event and to place well, but more than anything, I think inside we’re pleased with the progress and we feel like our hard work is being validated. We’re just excited for what’s to come and excited to keep improving.”
“It’s great that this was the Grand Prix that we were able to get our medal at, but even if this was a local competition, I think we would be at the same level of happiness just because we are proud of the skate we put out. I think as athletes, sometimes it’s more about the performance than the placements. The placement always helps make you feel great and proud of what you’ve done, but at the end of the day, it’s more about what you put out on the ice. I think we did a good job of that today.”
Calalang and Johnson delivered an excellent level 4 triple twist, which garnered many high positive Grades of Execution (GOEs) across the board in their free skate to “Who Wants to Live Forever.” The lifts were also very good and graded a level 4, however, the team struggled with several jumps. Calalang under-rotated and stepped out of the triple Salchows, and the triple toe-double toe combination was doubled She also put a hand down on the throw triple Lutz, and the team earned 136.32 points for their free skate and overall (207.40).
“We’re a little disappointed with our long,” admitted Johnson. “We had a couple of mistakes that we know that we can do. We’re going to go back and keep on working and keep on truckin’.”
“My jumps were not up to my standard,” added Calalang. “It has been a little bit of a longer week than normal. We got here on Monday and had three days of practice before we had our competition. So it was a little difficult to conserve our energy, but still put in good practice work. Besides my mistakes on the jumps, the lifts felt really good, and we were good on our timing, musically.
“I thought I had the level 4 death spiral, but I know we can do it,” Johnson chimed in.
Lu and Mitrofanov finished fourth in the free skate (122.13), but maintained third overall (189.65) after their entertaining “Charlie Chaplin” routine. The 2020 Challenge Cup silver medalists showed a good triple twist, triple Salchow-Euler-double Salchows, and triple toes. The mistakes came when she put a hand down on the throw triple Lutz and fell on the throw triple loop.
“We’re so happy!” said Mitrofanov. “We are still trying to process it. Honestly, going into the Grand Prix, we didn’t expect it. We just wanted to put down two solid performances.”
The team had a major change this year, moving from Texas to Boston.
“This new facility is amazing,” said Lu. “It’s like training in an Olympic-sized rink every day. It helps us get a feel for the big rink and to stretch ourselves, get more speed in the elements. Everyone there has been so helpful.”
“We’re definitely happy with our long program,” said Mitrofanov. “We know there’s certain areas where we need to improve, so we are going to continue to train hard and make sure that we improve our second marks and our technical side, as well.
Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc finished third (125.02) in the free skate, but maintained fourth overall (189.23). The 2018 Four Continents silver medalists landed the throw triple Lutz and Salchow, but Cain-Gribble took a fall on the triple loops and the team receive “q” for all jumps in their triple Salchow-double toe-double loop combination for landing on the quarter. The triple twist and pair combination spin were graded a level 4, but both lifts received a level 3.
“We came here with the plan to skate two clean programs and we just are really proud of ourselves,” said Cain-Gribble. “We really didn’t want to lose sight of that, especially after the short program. We looked back at the program yesterday, and were really proud of the points in it. We just tried to channel the energy we had left into this long program. We didn’t give up. We were just so honed in on doing a strong performance today.”
“The (side-by-side) spirals were born out of what we feel is a very big strength of ours,” said LeDuc, regarding the element, which is rare in the pairs’ discipline. “We used to do them when we first teamed up. It’s inspired from all the people we have gained inspiration along our journey, namely Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen. Especially this program being inspired a lot by Sasha Cohen, we knew we needed to have that in the program.”