U.S. Figure Skating Pairs Sit Sixth And Seventh After Short Program
by Lynn Rutherford
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier skate during the pair skating short program during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 18, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING — After strong short programs at Capital Indoor Stadium on Friday, separated by just 0.10 points, Team USA’s two pairs are placed sixth and seventh going into the final figure skating competition of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier earned 74.23 points for sixth place, while Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc sit seventh with 74.13.
This marks the first time two U.S. pairs have ranked among the top 10 in an Olympic short program since 1998, when American teams were fourth and sixth.
“It’s so cool, it just shows how strong we are,” Cain-Gribble said. “Look at these skaters — 74 points at the Olympic Games for two U.S. pair teams. We’re going to be ending up in good spots after tonight, and we know both of us can do strong long programs. It’s pretty incredible, and I think we have a very healthy competitive relationship.”
Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China gained 84.41 points for first place, followed by Russian Olympic Committee’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov with 84.25 and their ROC teammates Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov at 82.76. The event concludes with the free skate on Saturday.
The second pair to take the ice, Knierim and Frazier set the standard early with an electric performance to Heavy Young Heathen’s version of the folk classic “House of the Rising Sun,” opening with an explosive triple twist followed by side-by-side triple toe loops and a big throw triple flip.
Their high-risk elements done, the skaters came into their own with a freewheeling step sequence and exciting lift.
“Once we finish the throw, that’s a moment when the second half can come to life, and (we can) just really be present and throw it all out there,” said Knierim, 30, who skated in the 2018 Winter Games with her husband, Chris Knierim. “It’s different skating to slow, classical music versus something hard and heavy that’s fast. Your quickness changes and you get hyper. … that’s a challenge that comes with stronger-paced music, but I think today we did a good job of staying even keel.”
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Shae-Lynn Bourne, the skaters’ choreographer, suggested the music, and it immediately struck a chord.
“I think, number one, it suits our identify as a team, very explosive, very fast, very outgoing,” Frazier, 29, said.
“I like feisty,” Knierim said.
The 2021 U.S. champions, who train in Irvine, California, under three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, withdrew from the 2022 U.S. championships last month due to Frazier’s positive COVID-19 test. They were at a disadvantage skating so early in the draw: judging panels are notorious for “holding” marks for the final two warm-up groups.
The unlucky skate order makes Knierim and Frazier’s score — just 0.77 points off their personal best, set nearly two weeks ago in the team event — even more impressive.
“There’s no denying that the later groups have a little bit higher mark already awarded,” Frazier said. “At the end of the day, we can’t control (that), all we can control is our skating. We just did our program, got off, and hopefully we can climb as much as we can for the later groups for the free.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Beijing 2022? Visit TeamUSA.org/Beijing-2022-Olympic-Games to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.
Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc skate during the pair skating short program during the pair skating short program during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 18, 2022 in Beijing.
Cain-Gribble and LeDuc, who train in Plano, Texas, under Cain-Gribble’s parents, Darlene and Peter Cain, performed an elegant yet fiery short, choreographed by Misha Ge to music from “The White Crow.”
“A goal at nationals was to skate with joy and lightness, because it’s so easy under that high stress situation to get very tight or to almost be conservative and just try to complete the elements,” LeDuc, 31, said prior to the event. “I’d like to take that even further at the Olympics, because we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.”
The two-time U.S. champions (2019, 2022) set a U.S. record with the routine at the U.S. championships last month. It was equally impressive here, with clean side-by-side triple loops and an intricate step sequence performed with near-perfect unison. The only flaw was Cain-Gribble’s two-footed landing of a throw triple lutz.
“We wanted to do something that was kind of classical ballet but not strictly ballet, if that makes sense,” said LeDuc, who became the first openly nonbinary athlete to compete at the Winter Games. “We wanted to showcase (ballet) in the beginning of the program, but also have a section in the program where we could really let loose and showcase that ferocious emotion that we have brought to other programs, that maybe doing strictly a ballet program wouldn’t allow us to do.”
“For us, we feel we can really stand out in the footwork sequence, we always want to gain a lot of points there,” Cain-Gribble, 26, said. “So, we choreographed the footwork beforehand and then we went for the rest of the program.”
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Cain-Gribble sprained her right ankle during practice on Wednesday, making landing the throw especially difficult. A team doctor has been performing manual therapy to ease the injury.
“I’m grateful to the team we have here, because over the last 24 hours I’ve been able to get all of the care I need in order to put out a strong performance today,” Cain-Gribble said. “I think today I just felt I did not want to let anything go. We’ve learned how to adapt to what comes our way and this was just another thing. … I just focused on what Timothy and I could control, and it was putting out a performance like that.”