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2020 Nationals: Senior Pairs Free Skate

Knierims Edge Out Third U.S. Title

by Liz Leamy


(26 January 2020)  Alexa & Chris Knierim, the 2015 and 2018 U.S. titlists, clinched a third U.S. title in free skate portion of the pairs competition Saturday, racking up a 216.15 total that designated them as formidable American leaders in this discipline after having had faced a challenging over the past year or so.

“We’re over the moon,” said Alexa Knierim. “It’s been tough, but I’m proud of us.”

This was a particularly sweet moment for the two, in considering they placed sixth at the 2019 U.S. Championships, an outcome was most likely due to some big changes that were taking place in their lives at the time.

Nearly two years prior, the two had moved their training base halfway across the country from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles in order to skate in with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, the three-time U.S. champions and World medalists in Irvine, a change that involved some time adjustment.

Other than having to adapt to an entirely different economic and cultural environment and having to get used to the year-round warm-weather climate, the Knierims had to revamp some of their on-ice moves.

Their move to Los Angeles also involved a new approach to some of their money management, as they decided to sell some of their belongings as a means to help pay for their skating expenses and also manage a higher cost of living in that area of the country.

During this process, the biggest thing they decided to let go of was Chris’s prized Camaro (he is a self-proclaimed car guy and also professional mechanic), among other things, which was a leap of faith in many ways.

Still, they kept their eyes on the prize.

“We had some things we had to get rid of, but the only thing you need at the end of the day is love,” said Alexa Knierim.

The Knierims, who were in first place going into the free skate and placed second in the long, earned big marks for their long program, which featured gorgeous lifts, gigantic throw triple jumps (a flip and loop) and amazing death spiral, among other elements.

Chris, however, missed an opening triple toe loop, which he said he put out of his mind.

“You forget about it and move on,” said Knierim. “I’m just going to keep on improving and going to the next level.”

Jessica Calalang & Brian Johnson, who, like the Knierims, train in Irvine with Meno and Sand, knocked it out of the park with a clean and electric free skate to ‘You Are the Reason’ by Calum Scott and Leona Lewis, earning a 213.57 total.

This duo, who placed ninth at the 2019 U.S. Championships and has only been skating together since 2018, won the free skate portion of this competition, pulling up from fourth in the short program, with a stunning performance for which they earned a standing ovation.

“The amount of audience support we had at the end of that program was overwhelming,” said Johnson. “I don’t have words to describe it.”

Calalang agreed.

“I don’t think either of us ever had a performance like that,” said Calalang. “We just wanted to stay in the moment the whole time.”

The team certainly seemed to accomplish that goal, as they knocked out all of their elements with command, power and ease, including a throw triple Lutz and triple Salchow, side-by-side triple toe loop-double toe loops and triple Salchows, lovely and fluid lifts and a big split triple twist, among other things.

According to the duo, it’s all about training.

“The more experience you get the better you’ll be doing,” said Johnson. “Repetition always helps.”

Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea clinched bronze with a 204.07 total score.

The two, who train in Colorado Springs with Delilah Sappenfield, ranked second in the short and third in the free skate with their moving interpretation to ‘Les Miserables.’

They did graceful lifts, a high split triple twist, side-by-side triple Salchows-half Eulers-double Salchows and double Axels, and a throw triple Axel, among other things.

Kayne, however, did have a slight touchdown on the landing of a throw triple flip toward the end of the program.

Nevertheless, this was a dramatic and moving portrayal of the classic ‘Les Mis’ musical pieces that went over well with the audience.

“The program has progressed over the season,” said O’Shea. “We stood up on everything.”