Less than a year after coming together as a team, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier are national champions.
The new duo claimed the pairs title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night in Las Vegas, before Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue re-claimed their own bragging rights in the ice dance event, edging out defending champs Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
Knierim was a defending national champ herself, only last year she had won with husband Chris, who is now retired. Having teamed up in March of 2020, Knierim and Frazier won Skate America at this venue in October and did the same this weekend, capturing the title with a score of a 228.10.
Their training partners, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson were second for a second year in a row, coming in at 205.29.
Hubbell and Donohue came back from a second-place finish in the rhythm dance to leapfrog their training mates, winning 224.56 to 223.93 over Chock and Bates - a margin of just 1.63 points - the latter team having not skated in some 11 months.
Pairs: New duo Knierim/Frazier are national champs
Less than a year after joining forces, Knierim and Frazier are the U.S. champions in pairs.
The team came in as favourites for the event, but had a standout weekend, making not any major errors and running way with a 23-point victory over Calalang and Johnson.
It’s a fourth national title for Knierim and second for Frazier, who had previously won with Haven Denney in 2017. Knierim is the first pairs skater to win four national titles since Kyoko Ina won five between 1997 and 2002.
2019 U.S. champs Ashley Cain Gribble and Timothy LeDuc finished in third, scoring a 200.52. Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov were fourth.
Skating to “Fall on Me”, there was no falling for Knierim and Frazier, who said there were several “tight” elements in the free skate.
“It was a fight for us out there,” Knierim told reporters. “We’re pleased to win, but by no means are we finished. ... We strive for more everyday and we want to be among the best in the world. We have a ways to go.”
Their lifts were especially strong in the long program, all three of those earning a level four and positive Grades of Execution (GOEs). Knierim held firm on both of their throw jump lands.
Frazier was a disappointing fifth at nationals last year, sharing that he was emotional in a much different sense this year.
Both Calalang/Johnson and Cain Gribble/LeDuc expressed excitement for their finishes, but also want for further improvement.
Two pairs will be named for the worlds team this March in Stockholm.
Dance: A third national title for Hubbell/Donohue
Trailing by 0.46 points heading into the free dance, Hubbell and Donohue skated beautifully to a "Hallelujah" medley, the soft, subtle program covering the ice well. They earned 10.04 points on their twizzles, while Chock/Bates received just a 7.78, Bates losing his balance on the back end of one of their sequences.
That made all the difference - a win by just 1.63 points overall.
Hubbell and Donohue embraced in the "Kiss & Cry" as their first-place finish was announced over the loudspeaker.
Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker earned the bronze medal. All three teams train in Montreal under Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.
"We had to just keep calm and skate on... we're happy to have accomplished this big goal," Hubbell told reporters about a challenging season. "Each year is a different game. Today our focus was on trying to skate simple, pure skating. We had to be in control of what we could."
Said Bates of his mistake: "I really don't know what happened. Something went haywire. ... It was obviously costly, but so much of the program was good. We have a lot of strengths outside our twizzles."
All three teams are likely to be named for the world squad.