Ice Network

Scimeca, Knierim bounce back to win pairs gold

Calalang, Sidhu hold strong for silver; Aaron, Settlage secure bronze
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Entering the free skate in second place, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim rallied to top the pairs field with 163.24 points in Salt Lake City. -Jay Adeff

What a difference a day makes.

On Thursday, when Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim made uncharacteristic mistakes in their short program at the 2014 U.S. International Classic, a disappointed Knierim could only say, "It was rough."

A mere 24 hours later, after a sparkling performance to Gershwin's An American in Paris, both skaters were walking on air.

"I think we were humbled by the short," Scimeca said. "It really brought us back down to earth and made us focus on what we needed to do. We always skate for ourselves, but I think we forgot that going into the short. Before we skated today, we reminded each other of that: This is just for us and our own improvement, not anyone else."

The program, choreographed by Julie Marcotte, had exuberantly athletic moments worthy of Gene Kelly, star of the 1951 MGM musical. It started with a huge opening triple twist that gained a rare Level 4 and went on to include two big throw triples and a smoothly performed star lift with a flip-out exit -- a complicated element that gave them grief in the short.

Dalilah Sappenfield, who trains the pair in Colorado Springs, encouraged her skaters to try the difficult maneuver.

"I think Alexa and Chris do that lift very well. Most people don't realize how hard it is," she said. "The balance point is so small, and room for error so small. We decided at the beginning of the year we're going to keep it in and develop it. They are more than capable of doing it."

The team's only notable error was Knierim's doubling of an intended triple Salchow. They hit double Axel-double toe combinations, although the landings were not perfectly smooth.

Scimeca and Knierim's 114.24 points gave them 163.24 overall, and they won the title by more than seven points.

"Our choreographer, Julie, gave us a few options (for music), and this was the one that we all really liked the most," Knierim said.

"I only needed to hear about four seconds of the dance-y part in the middle, and I was immediately like, 'This is the music we're skating to,'" Scimeca said. "Chris had to hear it a few more times before he was convinced, but we both really love it. It's definitely our style."

Sappenfield is proud her team was able to bounce back from the disappointing short program.

"Tonight was more what they were capable of," she said. "In the short, they were very uptight; it was not normal for them. Before the free skate, I told them, 'Leave it all on the ice -- no regrets.' They really did their job and felt great, and they came off the ice with no energy left over."

Surprise short program leaders Jessica Calalang and Zack Sidhu's free to Nino Rota's Romeo and Juliet gathered strength as it went on. After an early fall on a triple Salchow, the team's three Level 4 lifts were smoothly done, and their two triple throws landed cleanly. They earned 104.26 points for the free and 156.18 overall to win the silver medal.

"It was a little rough, but we definitely fought through it and didn't lose the connection and the emotion," Calalang said.

"We could have pushed harder and gone a little faster, but I think our presentation was good, and that's what we've been trying to improve," Sidhu said.

Todd Sand, who trains the skaters in Aliso Viejo, California, with his wife, Jenni Meno, and Christine Binder, is encouraged by his team's progress in just their second senior international event.

"I think it's a great start for them," Sand said. "Obviously, it's tough skating here in the altitude, but I thought they fought through it well, and it's definitely a great place to start to build on."

Another Sappenfield team, U.S. junior champions Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage, delivered a charming performance to music from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I, highlighted by Aaron's fine posture and balletic lift positions.

Jump troubles, including stumbles on side-by-side triple Salchows and double Axels, as well as an invalid pairs spin, put them fourth in the free skate, but their 138.52-point total gave them the bronze medal.

"It wasn't our best, but we're not worried yet because it's just the beginning of the season," Settlage said. "We have a long time to build everything up and make ourselves even better."

"We didn't know the music at all, to be honest, and the minute our choreographer, Julie (Marcotte), brought it up, we were like, 'No, we don't know that,'" Aaron said. "But then she made us watch the movie, and we understood why she wanted us to skate to it so bad. We totally fell in love with the music and the story after that. It suits us both."

This is the first-ever senior international event for the pair, who placed fifth at the 2014 World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

Sappenfield thinks they're right on track.

"A big part of our plan was with Julie Marcotte, transitioning them to the senior level," she said. "I set a plan for them all season, not only in training but in how we work on the programs, adding a lot more detail, working with Drew (Meekins).

"Maddie and Max have stuck to the plan. They realize how important the component mark is, especially to senior pairs. They're working on their skating skills, their stroking, all of the in-betweens."