2024 Prevagen U.S. Figure Skating Championships: Pairs
In their second season together, Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea snagged gold at the U.S. National Championships. Alisa Efimova and Misha Mitrofanov took the silver while Valentina Plazas and Maximiliano Fernandez claimed the bronze.
The event carried some drama as short program leaders Emily Chan and Spencer Akira Howe withdrew from the event on Friday to assist with Howe’s shoulder injury recovery. Nationals was their first competition of the season.
Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea
Following their magical “East of Eden” short program, Kam and O’Shea were pleased with their performance. This was apart from O’Shea’s two-footed triple toe and Kam’s botched landing of the throw triple loop. The 2023 U.S. National bronze medalists earned a score of 64.57, less than two points from the leaders, and placed second. Kam has been recovering from a concussion during the Grand Prix season, but she said they feel confident going into the second half of the season.
“We are better and stronger as a result of those obstacles,” she offered.
“We’ve been performing really well at home and the throws have been going really, really well for us the past month or so,” O’Shea said. “Finally feeling like we made a breakthrough with them feeling confident and we hit one in the warmup.”
“The crowd is awesome, and we tried to make sure the quality on every other element was really high so that we could get the points,” he added.
“I love an open competition,” O’Shea said about the wide-open field following the retirement of 2022 World champions Brandon Frazier and Alexa Knierim. “I think that makes it exciting for the fans and exciting for the sport in general. And I hope everybody does awesome out there and we get the best possible team going to worlds. Three spots again for the country. It would be pretty awesome!”
On Saturday, in their inspired free skate to music from the Nocturnal Animals soundtrack, the team opened strongly with a throw triple twist and triple Salchows. However, Kam fell on both throw jumps and stepped out of the triple toe. They earned a free skate score of 123.19 to finish the competition with 187.76 points for gold.
“The results today, like, being first is amazing,” O’Shea said. “We know we could skate better than what we did today. And to be to be at the top of the podium knowing we can do better is a good feeling for sure. We believe that we bought ourselves at least a second competition. At Worlds, we will keep improving for the season and keep growing on the confidence that we gained from something like this.”
The strength of the team’s lifts helped them edge competitors Efimova and Mitrofanov. They were the only team to receive 2+ grades of execution (GOE) on every lift in the free skate.
“I love lifting,” O’Shea said. “It’s definitely my favorite and something that really matched for us from day one. It was a very, very easy thing for us to roll through. So, when you’re playing any sport, you gotta lean on the things that you have as an advantage and as a strong suit. And for us, that’s someplace that we can maximize our points.”
Alisa Efimova and Misha Mitrofanov
In their debut together at this event, Efimova and Mitrofanov showed few signs of a new team. Elegant, refined and calm, they were pleased with their short program set to a medley by various artists. The only errors came when she underrotated a triple toe and fell on a throw triple loop. They earned 60.48 points for the effort and placed fifth.
“We have done a lot of competition simulations, so this was like just another for us,” said Mitrofanov. He also downplayed the fall on the throw saying it was a “very small mistake,” but Efimova disagreed.
“I don’t feel it was a small mistake,” she said. “It was a bit surprising because this element is sharp for me. And maybe I wanted to make it really sharp and it’s like I had a lot of power into the landing, and it just slipped away from there. Which is really, really, really unfortunate.”
The duo managed to stay upright through all the jump elements of their captivating free skate set to “Iron 2021” by Woodkid. The highlight of which was the confidently-landed throw triple loop. They won the free skate with a score of 126.43 and total competition score of 186.91 to move from fifth to second.
“I’m really happy that we were kind of on the same channel without speaking about it during the program,” said Efimova. “We were really focused on our elements and still trying to perform. And the balance, I think, between us together was the same. Like that was really cool to feel it.”
“It felt really nice because our hard work was paying off,” Mitrofanov said about the free skate win.
Valentina Plazas and Maximiliano Fernandez
Following their short program, Plazas and Fernandez said they were satisfied with their elegant performance to Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. While they struggled on the triple toes, it was an improvement from their labored performance on home ice at Skate America. They earned 63.18 points for the effort.
“It was just to go out there and have fun and attack and stay calm,” Fernandez said of the team’s goals.
The team was already named to the Four Continents Championships next week in China.
“This is somewhat like an exhibition for us to just kind of go out there and treat this week as a training week,” Fernandez said.
“If we start thinking too much, that’s when we get in the way,” Plazas said about the opportunity of the open pairs field in Columbus. “Our best approach is keeping it calm and not taking it too seriously.”
In their free skate to the Top Gun: Maverick, Plazas and Fernandez struggled on the side-by-side jumps. However, the level-four triple twist was clean, and she landed a throw triple loop. They earned 117.85 points in the free skate for a total competition score of 181.03.
“It’s a very humbling experience to be here with the championship medal,” Fernandez said. “We’ve been working so hard the last few years to get to this point. And it’s just surreal. It was a great opportunity for everybody, and it was nice to go out there and just fight. I think everyone felt the same.”
Chelsea Liu and Balazs Nagy
Chelsea Liu and Balazs Nagy earned 60.13 in their short program set to “Dive.” The audience was particularly impressed by the team’s massive level-four triple twist.
“This has been such an amazing season for us,” she said after the short program. “And I think there’s more pressure for us right now than there has been at other competitions. This is because we were just getting started and you know, I’m really bummed about my job. But I think for the most part, we have applied the corrections that we wanted to for, at least, our skating quality and other elements as well. So, just keep pushing and getting better.”
“I was definitely nervous going in,” Nagy added. “But once we started skating for the first time, I felt myself kind of relaxed. I was able to kind of stay in the program a lot more.”
In the free skate, the 2023 Skate America bronze medalists were disappointed not to showcase the progress they have recently made on their throw jumps in training the past several weeks. In their debut at nationals, the team struggled on the jumps as Liu fell on the triple Salchow. They skated to “A Thousand Times Goodnight” and displayed their airy lifts and triple twist which helped then to achieve a score of 118.70 for a total competition score of 178.83.
“I think both of us are a little bit frustrated that we were not able to show off our throws the way they’ve been in training,” Nagy said. “I think since the new year, really, our throws have really come into their own.”
Katie McBeath and Daniil Parkman
At their first U.S. nationals together, Katie McBeath and Daniil Parkman said they felt the nerves last week and in their practices in Columbus. However, they were very pleased with their short program which earned 64.21 points and put them in third place heading into the free skate.
Katie said she loved competing in her home state, soaked in the hometown cheers. Following the short program said: “Super exciting! So, that was really good, and I felt like we skated nice and strong today!”
“I love it and I love it a lot,” Daniil added about his first U.S. Nationals. “It’s very hard to explain actually but it’s cool. I love it so much.”
The team tumbled down the rankings to fifth place in the free skate during which McBeath struggled to stay on her feet on jumps and Parkman doubled the toe loop. They were given poor GOEs on the triple flips due to a fall. However, they displayed impressive speed and lifts, and earned 108.60 points for a total competition score of 172.81.
McBeath was reported to have broken a blade during practice the day of the free skate and wore new blades for the program. She managed to execute several jumps on the warmup.
Emily Chan and Spencer Akira Howe
In their season debut, Emily Chan and Spencer Akira Howe resumed their place ahead of their competitors following the short program. Skating last, the two-time Four Continents silver medalists showed little weakness from Spencer’s shoulder injury and surgery which took them out of competition last year. They earned a score of 65.86 to finish first. Their only noticeable error was a step out on the throw triple loop by Chan.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges leading up to this competition,” said Howe. “We weren’t even sure if we’re going to be in it at all,” Howe said.
“It’s a huge blessing for us,” he added. “We’ve had to change a lot, our approach to things and, with that change definitely comes challenges.”
Emily said they experienced nerves when they first arrived in Columbus given their competition inexperience this season but felt more “settled” by the time the short program started.
“When we got here, it was a reminder of what it’s like to be in the competition environment,” Chan said.
Unfortunately, the team withdrew from the event prior to the free skate so that Howe can continue to recover.
Isabelle Martins and Ryan Bedard placed sixth overall (165.93) followed by Nica Digerness and Mark Sadusky (157.12).