by Karen Frank
(21 January 2016) The Pairs event, can always be a nervous experience, not just for the competitors, but for the audience, who gasp at huge throws and cover their eyes during shaky lifts. And though this afternoon’s performances were marred by jump errors and falls on throws, few performances would have been considered disastrous. In many cases, it was element levels that caused teams to lose points in this event.
Trying to improve on last year’s bronze medal, Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea, got off to a good start by winning the short program. Performing all their pair elements cleanly and with positive Grades of Execution, Kayne & O’Shea brought the audience to their feet with their acrobatics. One of the faster teams in the field, the Florida team, who train Jim Peterson, Amanda Evora and Lyndon Johnston, upped their difficulty with tricky and crowd pleasing entries to their elements. What kept their lead from being bigger was their opening element, the back outside death spiral, which was called only level one.
The audience responded well to their new Take Me To Church (Hozier) short program, which they created after their fall season. “The shorts weren't going that well for us this season,” O’Shea said. “We knew after Cup of Russia that we were going to do it.” What came as a surprise to the skaters was criticism over their music choice, as the song had previously caused controversy with its apparent criticism of the Catholic Church.
“I knew there was controversy around the piece, but when we said we were going to skate to it, I didn’t expect the backlash that came from it,” Kayne said. “I knew that people wouldn’t like Phantom of the Opera, but this was one of the top two on the charts. A lot of people like this song!”
Judging from the applause after the teams’ performance, the audience agreed with her.
On their quest to repeat as National Champions, Alexa Scimeca & Christopher Knierim, got into character even before their Nothing Else Matters music began, staring intently across the rink at the judges. Using the power ballad to propel them forward, they swiftly executed their death spiral and a jaw dropping triple twist lift, before running into a speed bump when Knierim fell on a triple Salchow. Said Scimeca, “It's a bit of a bummer. We felt really prepared. We actually felt really good out there. We just got off the ice and really wanted to get back out there and do it the way we can.”
Even with the fall on the Salchow, their technical mark was less than a point behind the leaders. In fact, they lost more ground in their performance component marks, possibly because their program seemed to lose speed and excitement following the fall. But the team is looking forward to redemption in the free program. “It was close point difference between the top,” said Scimeca. “We know if we throw down a great long we’ll be fine.”
Ooozing sensuality Marissa Castelli & Mervin Tran, skimmed across the ice to Gershwin’s Summertime. In their second season together, Castelli & Tran set the mood with edgy field moves, then exploded with a huge lateral triple twist. Their throw triple Salchow was equally impressive; however they lost points when Castelli doubled her Salchow in the side by side jumps. Aside from that mistake, they looked comfortable and confident together, presenting a total program as they effortlessly glided between elements. "We've worked really hard on trying to smooth it out more,” Castelli said. It was clear from the way they glide together that this work is starting to pay off.
“Generally we’re pretty happy with our short program,” Tran said. “It could have been better but overall we’re happy.”
Last year’s pewter medalists, Madeline Aaron & Max Settlage, showed off their line and positioning in a gentle interpretation of Edith Piaf’s Hymne a L'amour. While their triple twist and throw triple loop were completed with ease, they had problems in the side by side triple Salchow – Settlage fell, and Aaron had to put her hands down. Aaron hits some gorgeous positions in her elements, and their overall quality of movement kept them near the top.
There were also several strong performances from skaters who finished in the middle of the field. Jessica Pfund & Joshua Santillan, finished in fifth, had a huge throw triple loop, and one of the best scoring side by side triple Salchows in the event. Audience favorites Erika Smith & AJ Reiss, flaunted their dance moves to music from the Burlesque soundtrack, and finished in sixth. As is typical of a Jenni Meno and Todd Sand coached team, Jessica Calalang & Zack Sidhu landed a gorgeous throw (triple Lutz) to reach seventh place.
At the end of the afternoon, the scores were close enough that the final result will depend on the free program. Less than four points separates first from third place, and the teams who finished fourth through seventh all scored over fifty points. As Kayne put it, “It’s always a fight. We’re fighters. Alexa and Chris and Marissa and Mervin are fighters. They’re not going to take it lightly in any way, they’re always going to be trying to push the envelope.”