Ice Network

Scimeca, Knierim ready to make splash in Shanghai

Denney, Frazier announce Steuer's transition to team's primary coach
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U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim are aiming high heading into the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships. -Getty Images

Last month at the 2015 Four Continents Championships in Seoul, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim placed fifth, behind top Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford and three strong Chinese teams.

It was a respectable result, but coach Dalilah Sappenfield is looking for more from the U.S. pairs champions at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships in Shanghai this week. A lot more.

"We went to Four Continents very soon after nationals, and we were just hoping to get through it well," said Sappenfield, who coaches Scimeca and Knierim at Colorado Springs' World Arena. "Since then, we had a great monitoring session (with U.S. judges and technical specialists). The focus was really on cleaning up everything we're doing, and skating with the command, confidence and energy needed to get into the top group."

Since Scimeca and Knierim are ranked fourth in the International Skating Union (ISU) world standings among pairs competing in Shanghai, they will skate in the final warm-up group in the short program. With competitors that include European champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia in addition to the Canadian and Chinese teams, the final group in the free skate is an ambitious goal. But Sappenfield figures, why not aim high?

"We know we have to go in and skate two incredible programs," she said. "As long as we grow and improve from our previous competition, that's the most important thing. We left 10-12 points on the table at Four Continents."

Many of those points were lost on one element: the side-by-side triple Salchows in the short program and free skate. Knierim doubled his attempts in both routines.

"The dimensions of the rink (in Seoul) were a little weird for us; Chris could not get comfortable," Sappenfield said. "We've been practicing at home, in both the NHL and Olympic-sized rinks, and it's far more consistent."

Scimeca and Knierim take jump lessons from Eddie Shipstad three times a week, and Knierim thinks the triple Salchows have grown far stronger in the weeks after Seoul.

"The short (at Four Continents) kind of came down to nerves, and in the long, I was amped up to rotate and then I rushed," he said on a media call last week. "We've been very consistent with our jumps ever since, even before Four Continents and before nationals. We buckle down on the jumps and we don't mess them up like that often, in our jump lessons, on our own and in the program (run-throughs)."

The skaters are also hoping for more points from their quadruple twist, which they executed beautifully at the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"We didn't execute it to the best of our ability in the long program (at Four Continents)," Scimeca said. "The one in the six-minute warmup was great. The one we competed, the catch was a little fumbled so we got a negative GOE (Grade of Execution), which detracted from the base value. It didn't discourage us -- we still think it's worth the risk, whether we get the clean catch or not."

Steuer now guides Denney, Frazier

U.S. pairs silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier made news on their media call last week when they announced Ingo Steuer had taken over the coaching reins from John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana. Previously, the team had been trained by all three coaches in Coral Springs, Florida.

Steuer, who won the 1997 world pairs title with partner Mandy Woetzel while competing for Germany, coached Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy to five world titles. He visited Coral Springs with Savchenko and Szolkowy for several years each summer and moved from Chemnitz, Germany, to work there full time last summer.

The skaters said the change began at the U.S. championships and was finalized after their seventh-place finish at Four Continents.

"Having Ingo here and training us really opened [our] eyes," Denney said. "A coach like Ingo knows how to prepare a team -- mentally and physically -- to where we want to be in the future."

"We saw the potential he can bring, and we work together really well," Frazier said. "He coached Robin and Aliona to be five-time world champions. He is very good at what he does."

Frazier added that the team has not yet decided whether they would relocate to a new training site.

"None of that has been discussed," he said. "Right now, everyone has handled the change as well as anyone could. It's super smooth -- everyone had been very respectful of each other. We haven't focused on [a new training site]; we don't need to focus on that this moment."

In the weeks before Shanghai, Steuer has focused on drilling program sections and elements to sharpen levels and increase consistency. The team has paid special attention to its step sequences, adding more body movements to help ensure gaining Level 4's from the technical panel.

"We're ready to peak with both of our programs," Frazier said. "We've really improved from Four Continents."