2023 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships
In their third season together as a team, World Champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier claimed their second U.S. National title in San Jose, Calif. Emily Chan and Spencer Akira Howe earned the silver, while newcomers Ellie Kam and Danny O’Shea took the bronze.
In a soulful free skate, Knierim and Frazier confirmed their dominance in U.S. pairs skating, earning 146.01 points for a total competition score of 227.97. Their routine to “Sign of the Times” and “Healed Broken Wings” featured a solid triple twist, soaring throw triple loop, side-by-side triple Salchows and three level four lifts. However, it was not error-free. Frazier touched the ice on his side-by-side triple toes, after which, both skaters abandoned the planned double toe-double toe combination with each completing just one single toe. Knierim also put her free foot down on the landing of the throw triple flip. Many of the elements were well-placed, highlighting the crescendos of the music.
“It means the world for me,” said Frazier.
The team had to withdraw from nationals last year when he contracted COVID and was forced to watch the pairs competition in isolation from his hotel room.
“I can’t speak for Alexa but, especially after missing last year, to return and to return to the top of the podium, it’s a great achievement,” said Frazier. “But, more importantly for us, we’ve been reflecting a lot throughout the season: our personal journeys and our partnership. So, coming here, just so many emotions in the U.S. Championships every time you come ,and this was a week filled with emotions and that was all heart tonight.”
Knierim and Frazier have worked with their coaches to continue to improve after their outings in the Grand Prix series.
“We worked a lot on the twist,” said coach Jenni Meno. “I think that looks really good. We changed the entry a little bit; gave them better rhythm and timing. Otherwise, we’re just working on skating and the connection; really skating from the heart and skating free.”
In a tight battle with the Japanese pair team of Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, Knierim and Frazier are keen to improve upon their performances to skate brilliantly at the World Championships in Saitama, Japan.
“We still have quite a long time until worlds and we’ll just keep focusing on what we want to improve,” said Meno. “I think that Alexis and Brandon have something really special. And, I think it’s going to be a great competition for sure.”
The team feels well-situated to continue into the remainder of the season.
“Alexa and I are the are the kind of athletes where every competition, no matter how high or low, we treat it with the same intensity,” said Fraizer. “We are just trying to progress each time we come out. So, this week was about progressing our technical and our performance from the [Grand Prix] Final. And our Final performances were to progress from the Grand Prix. So, as we continue through the season, that’s our goal.”
The 2022 Skate America Champions gave themselves a very comfortable track to victory following the short program on Thursday. In a commanding performance to “Stranger Things,” Knierim and Frazier set a national record, scoring 81.96 points. They received positive grades of execution on all elements, including the high-risk level three triple twist, steady side-by-side triple toes and an impressive throw triple flip. Their total score was 196.86 points.
Chan and Howe managed 130 points in their tender free skate set to “Unchained Melody.” The 2022 Four Continents silver medalists opened their routine with a solid double Salchow-double Axel-double Axel sequence, but then doubled their side-by-side toes. Chan then fell on the throw triple loop, however, the team still managed a sturdy throw triple Salchow midway through the routine and capped it off with a left four lift.
“Giving out the performance that we did today, for us personally, meant a lot to us,” said Chan. “And being here also means a lot to us. As a team, we’ve been through a lot this season in terms of just getting experience and going through the ups-and-downs of training and going through the challenges together as a team. So, I feel like we’re both really grateful to be on the podium and go through this experience together.”
In their first U.S. Nationals together, Kam and O’Shea eked out 118.26 points with a free skate that started with a thud as Kam fell to the ice after the triple twist. However, they recovered to execute side-by-side triple Salchows at the opposite end of the ice. All three lifts performed by the team were graded a level four, as was the death spiral and pair spin. The newly-formed team finished the competition with a total score of 184.01 points.
“It’s quite the whirl wind,” said Kam about her medal. “It’s all very exciting and I’m super grateful for all these experiences. It’s kind of hard for me to believe that I’m here right now and I’m glad I get to do it with this partner.”
Sonia Sophia Baram and Daniel Tioumentsev finished in fourth place with a free skate that opened very good level-four triple twist and gutsy triple Salchow-double Axel-double Axel sequence. They earned 115.96 points for the effort to finish the week with a score of 179.08.
“It was such a good feeling,” said Baram. “On the first double Axel, we heard the whole crowd yelling. They were like, ‘Go! Go! Go!’ and we were like ‘Yes, we will!'”