Ice Network

Energized by new short, Kayne, O'Shea take lead

Scimeca, Knierim finish disappointing second; Castelli, Tran in third
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After skating a flawed program, reigning champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim left the door wide open for another team take control of the event, and that's just what Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea did. The Floridians scored a personal-best 69.61 points for their "Take Me to Church" short on their way to winning the segment. -Jay Adeff

On Dec. 8, the day after they returned home to Ellenton, Florida, after winning the bronze medal at the 2015 Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia, Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea had an uncomfortable talk with their coach, Jim Peterson.

"They wanted a new short program, and I was dragging my heels," remembered Peterson, who is also the pair's choreographer. "I said, 'Ah, it's kind of late.' But they had that look in their eyes where I knew they were dead set."

The skaters, especially O'Shea, just weren't feeling the Latin-themed short they had used all season. After receiving disappointing program component scores at the 2015 Rostelecom Cup in Russia a few weeks before the Croatia competition, they resolved to make the switch to Irish singer-songwriter Hozier's soulful "Take Me to Church."

"There had been an idea in our minds for a while," O'Shea said. "The music was something we talked about using maybe next season. But shorts just weren't going that well for us this season."

A little more than a month later, at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, that's no longer true. Kayne and O'Shea skated a technically clean and emotionally charged routine at Saint Paul's Xcel Energy Center on Thursday to earn 69.61 points and take a 2.26-point lead over the heavy the favorites, defending champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim.

After a strong triple twist, the duo was one of only two teams in the event to hit clean side-by-side triple jumps (salchows), followed by a throw triple lutz done from a challenging "cartwheel" entrance. Both skaters performed with freedom and abandon, something that doesn't come easily to O'Shea, who capped the routine with a high-flying butterfly move before the ending pose.

"I've been working with Mr. Peterson on skating the program by myself, to take the pressure off focusing on the elements and really just focus on myself and my expression," O'Shea said. "So, I'm finally catching up to Tarah."

"I like a pop at the end, so I said, 'Let's do a butterfly,'" Peterson said. "But Danny really put his emotion, his feeling, his heart into it. I think he enjoys the lyrics very much -- both of them do. It means something to them. You can see there is passion between Tarah and Danny. They have a very good relationship, and it's fiery and it's real."

Scimeca and Knierim left the ice disappointed with their short to Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters" after Knierim fell on a triple salchow. They take 67.35 points into the free skate.

"It's just a bummer," Scimeca said. "We felt really prepared. I don't know, you get off the ice and you just want to get back out there and do it again the way you can. But we're accepting of it, because we want to do it lights-out at the world championships."

The Metallica program created buzz at Skate America, where the pair won a silver medal en route to qualifying for the Grand Prix Final in December. The program endured a mishap here on the second element, their usually reliable triple twist.

"When he caught me, my dress fell down, and I think I flashed the audience," Scimeca said. "So, it really startled me when he went to catch me, because I could feel in the air my breast was out. I don't know if you could see it, because I was rotating, but it really distracted me."

"The twist was a little bit over-rotated," said Dalilah Sappenfield, who coaches the skaters at the Colorado Springs World Arena. "It was a nice, high twist, but she had to grab him around the neck."

Sappenfield thinks being heavy favorites may have weighed on the pair.

"Defending a championship is always hard," she said. "They may have overthought the program and almost tried too hard. Those are all things you have to experience and learn from."

Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran had a smooth, speedy outing of their short to Gershwin's "Summertime," highlighted by their chemistry and unison, as well as Julie Marcotte's sinuous choreography. They lost points when Castelli doubled an intended triple salchow, and sit third with 64.12 points.

"I second-guessed myself going [into the triple salchow] and lost my energy right in that moment," Castelli said. "It was a big mistake for me, but I know I'm not going to do it again. I know I can that do that jump; I've been doing it all week. It was just a fluke."

Coming into Saint Paul, the skaters, who train in Montreal under Bruno Marcotte and Richard Gauthier, focused on polishing their choreography and skating skills.

"This short program really sets us apart from the other teams," Tran said. "It really shows our connection, the way we can move down the ice together. Julie [Marcotte] just drilled that over and over, especially the intro going into our triple twist; that's a unique pattern, and we really worked hard to showcase that kind of skating between everything else."

"We're happy that we improved our skating skills, so even with the missed jump, [the score] stayed up in the high 60s," Castelli said.

Scimeca and Knierim's training partners, Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage, performed to Edith Piaf's romantic "Hymne a L'amour," also choreographed by Julie Marcotte. The team showed a strong throw triple loop and an attractive, difficult lift, but Settlage fell on a triple salchow. They are fourth with 57.47 points.