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2021 Nationals: Senior Pairs Short Program

Alexa Knierim & Brandon Frazer Take Lead in Pairs Event

by Liz Leamy

 Audrey Lu & Misha Mitrofanov

(14 January 2021) Alexa Scimeca-Knierim & Brandon Frazier, the 2020 Skate America champions who formed their partnership just last spring, catapulted to the top of the pairs competition at the 2021 U.S. Championships, earning a 77.46 in the short program, putting them six points ahead of the rest of the nine-entry field going into Saturday’s free skate showdown.

Skating in eye-catching red and black costumes, the duo, who trains in Irvine, California with Jenni Meno, Todd Sand, Rafael Arutyunyan and Nina Mozer, opened up with a soaring split triple twist for which they were awarded big grade of execution marks of mostly plus threes and plus fours.

The duo, who skated to Linkin Park’s ‘In the End’ and ‘Too Far Gone’ by Hidden Citizens also executed solid side-by-side triple toe loops, a high throw triple loop, a stunning star lift and near-horizontal death spiral, among other elements.

Notably, this team skated with astonishing power, confidence and edginess, for which they earned well-deserved high program component scores.

“This means the world to us,” said Brandon Frazier, a Colorado Springs native. “We’ve worked so hard.”

“I’m going to go to bed tonight feeling proud,” said Scimeca-Knierim. “We’re going to attack the long program and give it our all [on Saturday].”

When asked about how they felt about having the opportunity to compete at Nationals this pandemic year, the two expressed their tremendous gratitude to be able to compete at this event.

“We are so grateful to have an opportunity to have a Nationals this year,” said Scimeca-Knierim, who is from Addison, Illinois.

Her partner agreed.

“I’m thankful we have a Nationals this year,” said Frazier. “It’s also good to be back here again (after having competed at this venue, the Orleans Arena, last fall at Skate America where they placed first). “It’s a great arena and the staff and everyone here is great.”

Jessica Calalang & Brian Johnson, the 2020 U.S. silver medalists who also train with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in Irvine, California, claimed second for their compelling program to ‘Light of the Seven’ by Ramin Djawadi from Game of Thrones soundtrack and racked up a 71.30.

Although Calalang, an Elk Grove, Illinois native, missed a triple Salchow, she and Johnson flew around the ice with terrific speed, command and expertise and reeled off a high-flying, well-extended lift, stunning split triple twist and nice throw triple Lutz, among other things.

Moreover, their artistry and presentation was superb, especially their connecting steps and overall storyline narrative, which emanated of the whole dramatic Game of Thrones medieval theme.

For Calalang and Johnson, it was all about doing their job.

“We had to hone in and focus on the elements moving forward [from the triple Salchow],” said Calalang. “I just thought about the points we need to focus on.”

“We really go into each competition as a new thing,” said Johnson, a Royal Oaks, Michigan native who is said to be one of the premiere male pair partners in the competitive figure skating community today. “The biggest thing we’ve been working on is connecting to each other and relating to the judges [and audience].”

Audrey Lu & Misha Mitrofanov, the 2018 U.S. junior pair titlists from the Skating Club of Boston scored the third-highest marks, a 69.56, designating their finish as one of the first majoir stories to emerge from this U.S. Championships, as they were sixth at the 2020 Nationals.

The two skated with incredible speed, aptitude and confidence, knocking out a rock-solid throw triple loop, nice side-by-side triple Salchows, beautifully synchronized spins and a lovely lift, among other things, for which they earned grade of execution marks consisting mostly of plus three and plus fours.

Ashley Cain-Gribble & Timothy LeDuc, the ever-dynamic 2019 U.S. champions, were fourth with a 65.81.

This Texas-based duo, who train with Darlene and Peter Cain, Cain-Gribble’s parents, were strong and earned big points for their whopping split triple twist, high star lift, intricate footwork and nicely synchronized spins.

Cain-Gribble, however, missed a triple Salchow.

Going into Saturday’s long program event, this should be one heck of an intense competition, considering the skills, personalities and backgrounds of all the top contenders, that is for certain.