Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim ahead of pairs short program field


The Knierims are the favorites for the sole U.S. 2018 Olympic spot.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim lead the pairs field after Thursday’s short program at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California. Their score of 71.10 points wasn’t a personal best, but came close.

A year ago, Scimeca Knierim and Knierim missed the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships while she was recovering from a series of stomach issues.

Their first time back on competitive ice in several months was February’s 2017 Four Continents Championships, held in the same venue that will host the 2018 Olympics. The U.S. can only send one pairs team to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, and the Knierims are the prohibitive favorites.

“I’m not even focusing really on the Olympic team or the Olympic spot, I’m just focusing on being able to skate with Chris at another U.S. Championships,” Scimeca Knierim said on the NBCSN broadcast. “We’re just here for the gift of skating, it changes our perspective completely.”

The Knierims, the 2015 national champions, performed to “Come What May” from the “Moulin Rouge!” soundtrack. Knierim stepped out of their side by side triple Salchow, and there was a bobble on the entrance to the throw triple flip. Their best element, the triple twist, is expected to be upgraded to a quad twist for the free skate. (A quad twist in the short program is illegal.)

2016 national champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea are in second place heading into Saturday’s free skate with 68.93 points. They earned skated a relatively clean program to a medley of “Phantom of the Opera” songs. Kayne and O’Shea were primed to win their second national title in 2017, but withdrew from the competition after the short program when Kayne suffered a concussion. They returned to competition last month, after Kayne recovered from an unrelated knee surgery.

Kayne noted on the broadcast that she was pleased to show that they’re the same competitors they’ve always been, and can still produce good results. Full results are here.

Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay’s “Hallelujah” program earned them 67.84 points and they currently sit in third place. Stellato, now 34, is a former singles skater who retired at age 17, but returned to pairs skating with Bartholomay in 2016. Bartholomay competed at the 2014 with a different partner and finished 12th. Stellato and Bartholomay finished fourth at last year’s nationals.

Three-time national champion and commentator Johnny Weir called their performance “professional elegance at its best. A wow moment,” and noted that neither he nor commentating partner Tara Lipinski, 1998 Olympic champion, were happy with that score.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who won the 2017 national title, scored 63.63 points and are fourth headed into the free skate. Frazier doubled a planned side by side triple Salchow during an otherwise clean program. The last time nationals were in San Jose, Denney and Frazier became junior national champions.

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