by Carly Gold
Knierems Prevail in Pairs Free Skate
(7 January 2018) It was an event of flawed performances in Saturday’s Championship Pair event. Each of the top three teams made errors in their free skates, and I was disappointed to not see a single team in the entire event skate cleanly. Ultimately, the results from the short program stayed the same, with Alexa & Chris Knierem taking the gold.
“It wasn’t our best skate. We do have a lot of strong elements, which I think helped up stay up in the points. We still need to improve, and we still need to get better before each competition,” Chris Knierem said post-free skate.
The Knierems performed a lovely free program to “Ghost the Musical,” and had several highlights throughout their performance. They opened strongly with a quadruple twist; the only one seen attempted in this entire event. The pair scored 9.43 points for the element. The Knierems also landed two beautiful throw jumps, a triple Salchow and triple flip, and demonstrated superb lifts and spins. The couple had difficulty on their side-by-side jumps today, with Chris falling on the triple Salchow and doubling the toe loop in their jump combination. Nonetheless, their skating skills and choreography put them in a class of their own, and they were able to take the gold with a free skate score of 135.50 points and a combined score of 206.60 points.
With only one pairs spot open for the Olympic Games, it seems like a no-brainer that the Knierems will be representing the U.S. in PyeongChang. What an incredible comeback for this team, who has been through so much together.
Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea finished second with a total score 200.80 points. Their breathtaking “Swan Lake” free program started powerfully with a solid triple twist and exceptional side-by-side triple Salchows, which scored all positive Grades of Execution. The team faltered a bit later in the program, with Kayne performed an under-rotated double in their double Axel-double Axel sequence. They followed with another mistake, a fall on the throw triple Lutz. Kayne and O’Shea scored 131.87 points for their performance.
“We’re excited to be back out there and skate a long program this year. I’m so proud of my partner (Tarah) and how far she’s come, even in the last month. We’re excited to keep on moving forward and see where we can go from here,” O’Shea said in the post-competition presser.
Elements aside, Kayne & O’Shea’s free program was my favorite of the event. Every beat of the music had a movement choreographed, and the performance was filled with interesting transitions and exits on lifts. It was evident that this team really connected with their music. With the Knierems undoubtedly taking the first pair spot for the 2018 World Championships, I sincerely hope this team is chosen for the final spot.
“Most of our growth has happened in the last month, so this program today is very special for both of us. We love Swan Lake, it’s my favorite ballet. I really enjoyed skating it for everyone today, and I hope everyone enjoyed the work we put into it,” said Kayne.
Deanna Stellato & Nathan Bartholomay came in third with a free skate score of 129.81 points. Skating to a medley of U2 songs, the team made two errors at the beginning of their performance. Bartholomay had a big step-out on the side-by-side triple Salchows, and they suffered a fall on their throw quadruple Salchow. They were the only pair team in the event to attempt a throw quadruple jump. Stellato & Bartholomay captured the bronze medal with a score of 197.65 combined.
“We felt like we had a really gutsy performance today. The quad wasn’t quite there for us, but we’re thrilled to be up here with these two teams,” Bartholomay said.
For a team that has been skating together for less than two seasons, seeing a quadruple throw attempted is hugely impressive. Stellato and Bartholomay scored the highest technical of the night, with 67.61 points.
“Last year, we had been skating together for six months. Now, we’ve been skating together for a year and a half. Now, I have a little bit of muscle memory, so I hope to create more and hope to make the elements that we have muscle memory for a little bit better also,” Stellato commented.
Ashley Cain & Tim LeDuc pulled up from their disappointing 8th place showing in the short program to secure the pewter medal. The pair performed a saucy free program to the soundtrack of The Great Gatsby, with spunky choreography throughout. They nailed a side-by-side triple Salchow-double toe loop-double loop combination, as well as their throw triple Salchow.
The team made just two minor mistakes in their performance. Cain’s triple loop was judged under-rotated in the team’s second side-by-side jump, and she also put her hands down on the throw triple flip. Overall, the pair was ecstatic with their skate, and Cain left the ice in happy tears. It was very emotional to watch in person. They scored 187.14 points combined.
Haven Denny & Brandon Frazier dropped to fifth place overall with a total score of 186.32 points. They made mistakes on both of their side-by-side triple Salchow combination and side-by-side triple-toe loop, in which Denny’s attempt was downgraded.
Overall, it was a messy pairs event. The top three teams remarked in the post-short program press conference that U.S. pairs in general need to improve upon consistency, and I think this U.S. Championships proves their statement to be valid.