by Liz Leamy
(14 January 2019) Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim, the amiable and accomplished husband-wife duo who are two-time U.S. Champions (2015 and 2018), Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea, the 2016 U.S. Champions, Haven Denny & Brandon Frazier, the 2017 U.S. Champions, will join eleven other teams at the 2019 U.S. Championships in Detroit, to compete for the one World Team berth available to the U.S. this season.
The Knierims, who were 15th at the 2018 Olympics and took silver at the 2016 U.S. Championships, are looking forward to competing at Nationals next week, after having undergone a year of some big changes.
Last spring, the couple announced plans to train with Aljona Savchenko, the 2018 German Olympic champion and six-time World titlist, in Europe after having made the decision to part ways with Dalilah Sappenfield, their former pair coach based out of Colorado Springs, with whom they had worked with for many years in tandem with Larry Ibarra.
In October at Skate America (where they finished fourth), the Knierims then announced they had decided to stop training with Savchenko.
In November, the Knierims went on to relocate to California where they started working with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, the 1998 World silver medalists and two-time World bronze medalists, who have been married since 1995 (and have two teenage sons, Jack and Matthew), a venture that seems to be working well so far in regard to both their lifestyle and skating.
“It’s been a season with a lot of changes,” said Alexa, 27, a Chicago-area native. “It’s made us so much stronger.”
Chris, 31, a Tucson, Arizona native, agreed.
“This is a building year for the next three years and we know if we go out and skate a great performance we’re going to place well,” said Chris. “If we go out to compete, it’s going to look like it does during practice.”
The Knierims said although they decided to make the change to move to California, they had very much enjoyed living (and skating) in Europe.
“It was a great experience and we really enjoyed it,” said Alexa. “We were sad to leave.”
For both Alexa and Chris, faith has played a major role in giving them strength throughout this process and also in their overall lives.
“Faith has played an important role for both of us,” said Alexa. “I believe all of this was for a purpose.”
The Knierims said they have enjoyed working with Meno and Sand especially since they share certain things in common with them, such as being U.S. champions (Meno and Sand are three-time U.S. titlists), Olympic and World contenders and also the fact that both couples are married.
“[Jenni and Todd] have been through everything we’ve been through together,” said Chris. “I think that’s the biggest thing they bring to us on the day-to-day training [level].”
“I find Jenni and I are very similar and Chris and Todd are very similar,” said Alexa. “I can talk to Jenni and Chris can talk to Todd.”
Since moving to California, the Knierims have been working on all aspects of their skating with Jenni and Todd, particularly their technical elements.
“We’ve really refined our elements and the elements are more consistent,” said Chris. “We’re very happy with the situation we’ve been in.”
Meanwhile, Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea, the 2018 Four Continents champions, also have their sites on skating and doing well in Detroit.
Kayne, 24, who hails from Florida and O’Shea, a Chicago-area native, are the 2018 U.S. silver and 2015 U.S. bronze medalists, and experienced a year of major changes, just like the Knierims.
Last September, the duo, known for their high-speed lifts and big throw jumps, among other things, decided to switch their regimen up and move their home base from Ellenton, Florida (where they had worked with the esteemed coaches, Jim Peterson and Amanda Evora) to Colorado Springs, where they began training with Dalilah Sappenfield, the former teacher of the Knierims.
“Our season so far [has been] pretty eventful,” said O’Shea, 27, who was the 2008 U.S. Novice men’s champion. “We’re both feeling pretty good heading into Nationals and excited to get there.”
According to Kayne & O’Shea, winning the 2018 Four Continents Championships was a huge confidence boost for both of them.
‘Winning Four Continents this past year was a great experience for us,” said O’Shea. “It was confidence building and definitely helped us gain momentum and move forward in our career.”
Kayne & O’Shea also feel good about being part of a generation that is helping to boost U.S. pairs to a greater international level right now.
“I think the [top] American pairs you see out there right now are [helping to change] the stigma of [U.S. pair skating] and I think we’re good enough to compete with the rest of the world.”