by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
The pairs competition at Skate America 2020 had a mixed level. The general weakness of U.S. pairs are the side-by-side jumps and many pairs had their biggest problems there again. Otherwise the level was good, but not outstanding.
The new pair of Alexa Scimeca Knierim (29) & Brandon Frazier (27) won with 214.77 points. In March, Frazier came from Florida to California to tryout just before all rinks closed. He agreed to change his technique in throws, but took the lead in the lifts. They had no big jump problems, because both of them were good jumpers with their former partners Chris Knierim and Haven Denney. Generally both were the stronger partner of the previous partnership. Therefore finally there is a good chance for the USA to have a pair who can fight for medals internationally. Sometimes you still see small disharmonies, but this is normal after only half a year of training together. They mainly train with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in Irvine, California.
They skated first and had to start their short program twice because on the first try the wrong music was played. But both are experienced skaters and this did not make them nervous. All seven elements were at least good. The triple twist was even outstanding and had five GOEs of +4 and two of +5 and a level 3. The triple throw loop was excellent, the death spiral forward inward, the spin, the step sequence and the lift as well and the side by side triple toe loop clean, but a bit out of sync. They skated to “In the End“ by Tommy Profitt and to “Too Far Gone“ by the Hidden Citizens.
At the end both skaters smiled like no other U.S. pair in years. Scimeca commented: “I always like to dream big, but I did not expect to be where we are today so soon. We’ve been working really hard at home. We didn’t have much expectation coming in since this is our first real event. We’re happy with how we skated, but we know we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Skating in the the free program to “Fall On Me“ by Andrea and Matteo Bocelli, they opened with an excellent triple twist (six of the seven judges awarded GOEs of +4) and a combination of triple toe loop and double toe loop during which they were a bit far apart from each other. The triple throw loop was outstanding, the three lifts as well. The triple throw Lutz was good, spins and step sequence as well, and Scimeca landed the parallel triple Salchow a bit on two feet. Their components had an average of 8.7, which are probably the highest components a U.S. pair has received in many years.
Scimeca explained: "I made a joke to Brandon when we got our scores that this partnership is going to work. It is always great to have a successful event and to place well, but more than anything I think inside we're pleased with the progress and we fell like our hard work has paid off. We're just excited for what is to come and excited to keep improving. It's great that this is the Grand Prix that we were able to get our medal at, but I think even if this were a local competition, we would be at the same level of happiness, just because we're proud of the skate that we put out." Frazier added: “We're very happy with the progress we've made this week. We had to make a lot of adjustments since our virtual competition a couple of weeks ago. Chris (Knierim) is kind of a secret weapon, especially with the twist. Todd and Jenni are great with the technical elements, but having someone like Chris – who is fresh off the (competitive) scene and had one of the best twists in the world – to kind of guide you, it plays such a big part in Alexa and I getting as fast as we are.”
Jessica Calalang & Brian Johnson who are training mates of Scimeca & Frazier in Irvine, won the silver medal with 207.40 points. They had been second at U.S. Nationals behind Scimeca & Knierim and fourth at Four Continents Championships in February 2020, but won the International Selection Pool (ISP) Points Challenge, a virtual competition held by U.S. Figure Skating in September. In their short program in Las Vegas, they skated to “Light of the Seven“ from the Game of Thrones soundtrack. Calalang fell on the triple Salchow and Johnson doubled it, therefore, including the fall deduction, they had -0.35 points on this element. Lift, steps and death spiral were excellent, the triple twist even outstanding and got five GOEs of +5. The triple throw Lutz and the spin were good and their components around 8.5. Calalang said: “Our performance wasn’t the best, we did have a mistake at the beginning, but we really tried to focus on our performance and overall skating skills.“
They opened the free program to “Who Wants to Live Forever“ in a version by The Tenors featuring Lindsey Stirling, with their outstanding triple twist (five GOEs of +5). But Calalang almost fell on the parallel triple Salchow and doubled the first toe loop of their combination which was planned triple. Most other elements were stellar and the linking steps were more difficult than last season. She only touched down on the throw triple Lutz. Their components were around 8.6. “For me, my jumps were not to my standard in the program,” Calalang commented. “Besides my jumps, the lifts felt good.”
Audrey Lu & Misha Mitropanov won bronze with 189.65 points. When the ice rinks were closed in springtime, Lu graduated high school and passed her driver’s test. Mitrofanov finished his spring semester courses at the University of Texas. In late summer they moved with their coach Alexei Letov from Plano, Texas to Boston. Their short program to “The Show Must Go on“ from Moulin Rouge was clean, all elements were at least good, the side by side triple Salchow very good. Mitrofanov said: “We put down a very solid program and this gives us confidence right now going into the free skate. It is surprising for us to be in third place, but we’re super happy.“
In the free program to a playful Charles Chaplin medley, nine of the 11 elements were good, the sequence of triple Salchow and double Salchow excellent. But she touched down on the triple throw Lutz and fell on the triple throw loop and both athletes were quite exhausted at the end. Mitrofanov commented: “We are very happy and fortunate with this bronze medal and we are very proud of ourselves. This definitely gives us a confidence boost.“ Lu added: “We need to improve the second half of our free skate. We need to work on that more, because obviously, we’re getting too tired.”
Ashley Cain-Gribble & Timothy LeDuc finished only on fourth position with 189.23 points, which was less than they expected. But in the short, she did not land correctly in his arms on the triple twist, her triple Salchow was downgraded and she landed the triple throw Lutz on two feet. In a powerful free skate to Rakhmaninov’s 2nd Piano concerto, nine elements were good. But Cain-Gribble fell on the triple loop and under-rotated each of the three jumps of her combination. She explained: “We came here with a plan, to skate two strong programs. We didn’t want to lose sight of that. We channeled all of the energy we had left into that long program tonight.”
Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea are on fifth position, earning 174.35 points. They left their coach Dalilah Sappenfield under a rumor of a Safe Sport complaint of her having tolerated skater TJ Nyman behaving sexually inappropriate with minor girls in Colorado. Kayne & O‘Shea were provisionally coached by Jim Peterson who left his training school in Ellenton, Florida after having been accused of excessive shouting at skaters and works now in Canton, Michigan. Thus, they are currently without a coach. After a stunning death spiral in the short, Kayne fell on the triple Salchow and stepped out of the triple throw Lutz. In their Carmen free program they made three major mistakes on the individual jumps and the triple throw Lutz.
Olivia Serafini & Marvin Tran of Monsey, New York, took sixth place with 168.07 points. Three elements in their short program were shaky and in the long program Tran fell on both individual jumps. Their triple throw Salchow was excellent, however. Emily Chan & Spencer Akira Howe are on seventh position with 151.15 points. In the short, she touched down on the triple toe loop and fell on the triple throw loop. Their free program had four mistakes and therefore the specialists needed longer than usual to decide. Anna Vernikov & Evgeni Krasnopolski from Israel ended up eighth with 146.12 points. They moved with the whole Israeli team from Hackensack to Montclair, New Jersey. Vernikov fell on the triple toe loop in the short which was downgraded and almost fell on the triple throw loop. In their free they made five mistakes.