Knierem and Knierem Take the Lead in Pairs Short Program
by Carly Gold
(5 January 2018) The top two teams after the short program rallied after illnesses and injuries last season to deliver strong performances at the U.S. Championships.
Alexa Scimeca-Knirem & Chris Knierem delivered a strong short program on Thursday to grab the top spot going into the Pairs free skate. Their score of 71.10 points puts the team two points above Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea, the 2016 U.S. Pairs Champions.
The Knierems skated a stunning performance to “Come What May” from the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge, opening with a huge triple twist that racked up 2 full points in GOE. The team had a few minor errors throughout the program, with Chris stepping-out of the side-by-side triple Salchow and a slight trip in the steps leading into the throw triple flip. It didn’t seem to faze them, as she landed the massive throw with great speed and ease. The pair was rewarded with the both the highest technical and components score, with 37.99 points and 33.11 points, respectively. This was well deserved, as the Knierems are the strongest team overall in nearly every aspect.
“We are really happy with our performance today. We had two mistakes, little ones, but we were just happy to be back at the U.S. Championships.”
This was a particularly heart-warming performance, as Alexa suffered a near life-threatening illness just last season, requiring three separate surgeries. To see her and her husband in first after short is an incredible comeback for them!
Alexa and Chris will skate last in Friday’s free skate event.
Kayne & O’Shea came in second with a score of 68.93 points. Their Phantom of the Opera performance was skated cleanly with a solid throw triple Salchow and excellent side-by-side triple Salchows.
“Danny and I are really pleased with our performance today. We are really excited to be here, and we think it was a really good event,” Tarah Kayne stated after the event.
It was great to see them return so strongly after their disappointing showing earlier this season at Golden Spin of Zagreb. It seems they are coming back to their competitive shape, and just in time for the competition that counts.
“Competitions are a condensed learning experience. That was something we took out of (Golden Spin). We learned a lot from it. We made a few minor tweaks and kept training, and we had our skate today,” O’Shea responded to a question regarding their preparation for the event.
With two Pairs spots for Worlds, it will be important for them to maintain their position in the free skate. Kayne and O’Shea last appeared at the World Championships in 2016, where they placed 13th.
Kayne & O’Shea had difficult year this past season. After withdrawing from the 2017 Championships halfway through the event, Tarah underwent knee surgery. This team has such a solid foundation and so much chemistry on the ice, and it was lovely to see them perform to their potential at this year’s Championships. Hopefully they can continue their momentum through Saturday’s free skate event.
Deanna Stellato & Nathan Bartholomay’s “Hallelujah” performance was skated cleanly. They earned 67.84 points and they currently sit in third place. They gained positive GOEs on each element performed, and the crowd gave them a standing ovation.
Post-event, Bartholomay said, “We had a great short program for us. It was another step in the right direction. Seems to be a theme (among the top three teams), but we are also very happy to be here.”
34-year-old Stellato was a former singles skater half her life ago, retiring at the age of 17. In 2016, she returned to competition as a pairs with Bartholomay. Stellato & Bartholomay finished fourth at last year’s Championships. The close margin between the top three teams certainly puts them in contention to qualify for the 2018 World Championships.
In fourth place after the short, Haven Denny and Brandon Frazier earned 63.63 points for their “All of Me” performance. Frazier botched their side-by-side combination by doubling a planned triple Salchow. Their program had several other shining moments, including an enormous triple twist, which earned 8.10 points and all 2s and 3s in GOE.
In the post-competition press conference, each team was asked what would be required to win a medal at the World Championships. The overall response of each team was similar; U.S. pairs teams need to improve consistency, and need to stay together in long-term partnerships.
Alexa Knierem stated, “There’s usually not that many clean skates when we go internationally, and then we do it’s almost too late. I think if our teams continue to stay together and keep having consistent solid performances, then they’ll continue to rise in the rankings. Then we can be medal contenders.”
O’Shea added, “We need to show consistent skating consistently. At the same time, if you’re counted out beforehand, there’s a lot of added pressure…I think that the teams we have coming up are the ones that are going to get that.”