Ice Network

Scimeca, Knierim make history en route to pairs title

Colorado pair becomes first U.S. team to perform quad twist in competition
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In winning their first U.S. pairs title, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim set new U.S. scoring records for the free skate (136.48) and total score (210.49). They also became the first U.S. team to perform a quad twist in competition. -Jay Adeff

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim did something in pairs skating that would make several of the U.S. men swoon: They nailed a quad.

The Colorado couple made history in Greensboro by becoming the first U.S. pairs team to execute a quad twist in competition. The maneuver, which opened their free skate program at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, also helped them win their first national title.

"I felt relief right after we got it done," Knierim said. "I take a lot of pride with our twist."

Scimeca said she didn't think much about the twist after they performed it, saying she had to focus on the rest of their elements, particularly the side-by-side Salchows that have been problematic in the past.

But once the program was over and the scores were announced, Scimeca stood up in the kiss and cry, raised her arms and let out a scream.

The two amassed 136.48 points in their free skate to finish with a U.S. championships-record 210.49 points. For a team that was plagued by injuries (he broke his fibula last season) and heartbreak (they missed the podium at this event last season and did not make the Olympic team), her screams were a clear sound of redemption.

"As they were going into it, I just said to myself, 'Please keep them safe,'" said Dalilah Sappenfield, who coaches the team in Colorado Springs. "That was my only thought, because it is such a big trick.

"They have been very consistent with it at home. I would say it's about 90 percent consistent. Actually, when they miss it, it is over-rotated."

Scimeca and Knierim received 10.53 points for the quad twist -- 2.43 more than the base value of the element -- and sent a message that U.S. pairs are venturing into an arena that has been long dominated by Russia, China and Canada. With a handful of international teams trying quad twists, and Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford landing a throw quad Salchow at the Grand Prix Final, pairs teams are upping the ante.

The last time an American team reached the podium at a world championships was in 2002, when Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman took the bronze medal.

"U.S. pairs need to be more competitive with international teams," Scimeca said. "Hopefully, by 2018, we'll have some team in the top five."

One reason for the United States to be excited about the gold-medal couple is that they have a good chance of sticking together for the long haul. The two were engaged in April, and although they have yet to set wedding plans, it seems likely they want to be together for a while.

Runners-up Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who train with Zimmerman and his wife, Silvia Fontana, also showed promise and potential for the United States. They scored 199.92 points to take the silver medal.

"When we started this season, we had no expectations for where we are today," Frazier said. "The way we went into this season, we wanted each performance to be better than the one before, and that's exactly what we've been accomplishing.

"We've done more than what we expected. We learned a lot. We are very excited. It's a start of new quad, there are great teams, and we are happy to be in this position."

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the event was that Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea won the bronze medal (185.31). There were many times when the pair wasn't even sure they would skate at all this season. She underwent hip surgery and spent about two months recovering at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. They withdrew from both of their Grand Prix assignments and did not take the ice until December, when they placed third at the Golden Spin of Zagreb.

O'Shea actually traveled to Colorado Springs for U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp in August and performed the couple's programs by himself.

"They told me I had the best lifts," O'Shea said with a laugh.

What motivated Kayne to return was that she lived amongst several Paralympic athletes while at the training center.

"She realized that she needed to stop feeling sorry for herself," said their coach Jim Peterson, who also praised U.S. Figure Skating officials for assisting so much in getting Kayne back into top form.

Three of the four U.S. Olympic pairs skaters who were in Sochi nearly a year ago returned to competition this season -- but all of them skated with new partners this time around. (Felicia Zhang, the lone skater who did not compete in Greensboro, decided to pursue her education and is no longer training.)

Marissa Castelli was the top-finishing Olympian, coming in sixth with her new partner, Mervin Tran. The two had a strong showing in the short, in which they placed third, but had an error-filled free skate and fell to eighth in that phase of the comeptition.

Nathan Bartholomay, the silver medalist last year with Zhang, finished seventh with Gretchen Donlan, with whom he began training in August. And Simon Shnapir, who won two U.S. titles with Castelli, was eighth with his new partner, DeeDee Leng.

Bartholomay started feeling pain in his right ankle even while he was in Sochi but thought he could train through it. Eventually, the swelling became unbearable.

"It got to the point where I couldn't put my skate on," Bartholomay said.                                   

He underwent surgery Oct. 23 and did not return to the ice until about a month ago. Once Bartholomay came back, he had to take his time before he could jump again, so to be able to skate at all in these championships -- let alone finish -- was an accomplishment.

"I'm really excited for next season, when we actually have the season to train," Donlan said.

Shnapir and Leng did not have an easy road to Greensboro either, as the latter suffered a fractured pelvic bone. Yet, the pair still managed to skate respectably.

"I said to DeeDee when we stood on the ice, 'This is the hardest it will ever be. We always have this to fall back on,'" Shnapir said.