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Carman, Knierim on top of junior pairs despite falls

Castelli, Shnapir sit in second; Tanovich, Chau close behind in third

Brynn Carman and Christopher Knierim lead despite falling on their double Lutzes.
Brynn Carman and Christopher Knierim lead despite falling on their double Lutzes. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(01/21/2009) - The top three teams in the junior pairs short program Wednesday at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships proved that you don't have to skate clean to put yourself on top of the standings.

Two of those pairs -- Brynn Carman and Christopher Knierim and Tracy Tanovich and Michael Chau -- had major errors in their programs, while Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir made a few smaller mistakes.

That trio, however, was the best of the bunch, with the Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller lurking just behind the pack in fourth.

Dressed in bright, multi-colored outfits, Carman and Knierim both fell on their side-by-side double Lutzes midway through their "Czardas" program.

"It was a silly mistake. We hesitated going in," Carman said. "It was ridiculous, but we rebounded very well."

Before those miscues, they executed a soaring double Lutz twist, which received mostly +2 and +3 Grades of Execution (GOE), and landed their throw double loop, helping them to a segment score of 48.31.

"The rest of the program was really strong, and that's all you can ask for," Carman said.

This short program is a new one for the reigning U.S. novice champions, and they are greatly looking forward to Friday's free skate, when they get to perform the City Slickers program they rode to victory at the novice level last season.

Avoiding a major slip-up in their "Survivor" program, Castelli and Shnapir instead made a wobble here and bobble there on their way to a mark of 47.57.

They achieved their goal of surpassing the 20-point mark for their program components -- they totaled 20.86 points in that area.

"Our goal was to sell the program and improve our components," said the hulking Shnapir, "So, mission accomplished."

The only U.S. team last fall to qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final, Castelli and Shnapir displayed some inventive choreography and transitions, including him picking her up and giving her a slight turn just before their throw, and a dramatic flourish at the end.

"We wanted to add a little extra to the choreography," Castelli said. "It's cooler for the crowd if they can get involved.

Shnapir credits Castelli for coming up with many of the team's unique moves, saying, "We don't put in our bio 'Choreographer: Marissa Castelli,' but we could."

Tanovich and Chau -- second a year ago at the U.S. Championships in junior pairs -- were on their way to winning the short program until his foot slipped out from under him as they were entering their forward-inside death spiral, sending both down on the ice.

"I was unbalanced going into it, and I lost it," Chau said. "Mistakes happen."

Not wanting her partner to take all the blame, Tanovich chimed in, "I went down a little quickly on the death spiral, so that probably influenced Michael's slip."

The pair did not receive a single negative GOE on any of the other elements in their "Espana Cani" program, and their spiral sequence was the best of the event, earning a Level 4 and a +1 GOE.

Chau is doing double duty this week, also competing in the junior men's competition. Earlier in the day, he placed 12th in the short program.

"We knew from the get-go it was going to be tiring. We prepared ourselves for it," Chau said. "You've got to plug through."

Simpson and Miller scored 46.39 points for their "Firebird" program, putting them less than a half point out of third.