by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(23 March 2022) Only 12 pairs finished the pairs free program at the 2022 World Championships in Montpellier, France, as least in decades. The general level was low, except for the winners. The top five pairs from the Olympic Games (three from Russia, two from China) were not present, plus several others. Alexa Knierim & Brandon Frazier of Irvine, California were sixth at the Olympic Games and therefore the favorites for Worlds. They confirmed their role and are the new World Champions with 221.09 points, the first ones from the USA since Tai Babilonia & Randy Gardner won the gold medal at the World Championships 1979 in Vienna.
Knierim & Frazier have competed together only in their second season, but both had many years of pair skating experience with other partners. They are coached by Jenni Meno, Todd Sand and Knierim’s former partner and husband Chris Knierim in Irvine, California. They delivered a more or less flawless program to the music of “Fix You“ by Coldplay and to “Redemption through Love“ by Karl Hugo. They opened their program with an excellent triple twist, followed by a combination of side by side triple toe loop and double toe loop, which was not perfect. The triple Salchow was good, the triple throw loop and the triple throw flip were outstanding. The three lifts were excellent and everything else very good as well. The components were around 8.9, with some 9.5 as highest ones.
Frazier said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the season. For Alexa and I this was such a personal journey since we teamed up. For us to finish the season on this kind of program, that means so much to us. I’ve dreamed about this moment so many times but this (reality) is even better.” Knierim added, “So many emotions I can’t even explain it – it was so much gratitude, fulfillment, excitement, disbelief - it was magical! In the moment, it was living a dream that Brandon and I always sought after but never knew it would actually be possible and we want to live in this moment for a long time.”
The second U.S. team Ashley Cain-Gribble & Timothy LeDuc of Euless, Texas was in second place after the short program, close behind. but they could not finish their routine. Cain-Gribble had problems right from the beginning. She fell on the side by side triple loop, then on the triple throw Lutz in the first minute of their free program again. In the second minute she had a bad fall on her breast and lower jaw on her side-by-side triple Salchow. She was dizzy, could not continue to skate and had to be transported from the ice surface and to a hospital for further examination. It looked like she had another concussion, not her first one on the ice after a hard fall as former single and as a pair skater.
Silver medal winners with 199.55 points were Riku Miura & Ryuichi Kihara from Japan who train with Bruno Marcotte in Canada. But they made three serious mistakes. After a good triple twist Miura doubled the side by side toe loop of their combination which was planned triple and he did not do the third jump. The three lifts were excellent, but Miura stumbled on the triple Salchow and later fell on the triple throw loop. The other elements and their style to the music of “Woman“ by Shawn Philipps were very good, but due to the mistakes their components were only around 8.5.
Miura said, “Now we secure the medal but I don’t think our performance is worth winning a medal today. We regret our performance today. So next season I want to push ourselves hard and to the very end and we want to practice hard.” Kihara added, “I’m happy with this medal and hope the next generation (in Japan) will find interest and wants to challenge the pairs discipline.”
Vanessa James & Eric Radford from Canada won the bronze medal with the second best free program and with 197.32 points to the music “Falling“ by Harry Styles in their first season together. But he had won many medals for Canada with Meagan Duhamel until 2018 and she was successful for France with former partner Morgan Cipres. Their only mistake was a messy and out of sync jump combination which was planned with a triple toe loop and two double toe loops. All other elements were at least good, including a triple Salchow, a triple throw Salchow and a triple throw flip. Two lifts were excellent, the first one a bit wobbly.
James, who has French and Canadian citizenship, explained, “It feels like everything is coming together just when we needed to. We fought till the end, we didn’t just fight, we didn’t just think of the elements, we really performed and we really felt comfortable on the ice, it felt at home.” Radford added, “I look back on this year as one of the best years of my life. It was one of the most incredible journeys and experiences that I’ve had thus far in my life and I’m so in gratitude. I’m 37 years old and after everything that I accomplished in my career to come back and experience in this sport and experience in a totally different and amazing way I have to thank Vanessa, I just can’t thank her enough for giving me this opportunity for this experience.”
Karina Safina & Luka Berulava from Georgia, the youngest pair in Montpellier, finished on fourth place with 191.74 points, almost without mistakes. Being only 17 and 19 years old, they are young enough to compete at Junior Worlds and plan to do this in Tallinn in April, where Junior Worlds has been postponed from Sofia in early March. Minerva Hase & Nolan Seegert from Germany came fifth with 189.61 points after two almost flawless programs. The Canadians Evelyn Walsh & Trennt Michaud placed sixth with 176.02 points, ahead of Austrians Miriam Ziegler & Severin Kiefer with 166.68 points in their last competition before retiring. Camille Kovalev & husband Pavel Kovalev from France are eighth with 153.73 points The Ukrainian pair of Sofiia Holichenko & Artem Darenskyi did not compete their free program due to a lack of practice to be adequately prepared.