Alexa Scimeca and Christopher Knierim compete in the pairs free skate at the 2015 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Greensboro Coliseum on Jan. 24, 2015 in Greensboro, N.C.
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Alexa Scimeca thought winning a national title would be easy. She’s watched numerous pairs figure skating teams do it and they always make it look easy, she said.
For Scimeca and skating partner-turned-fiancé Christopher Knierim, it was surprisingly difficult Saturday afternoon at the 2015 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but they pulled through and pulled out a win for their first national title.
“Normally when you see people win national championships it looks so easy, but that program was like a nail-biter for me, ” Scimeca, 23, said. “It was just hard. I had to be really in the zone when we were going through it. And then I got really excited at the end and almost fell on the dismount.”
Scimeca and Knierim won the gold medal with a total score of 210.49. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier’s score of 199.92 brought them the silver medal, while Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea earned 185.31 points for the bronze medal. It was the first time on the senior national podium for both Denney and Frazier, and Kayne and O’Shea.
Scimeca and Knierim, who earned silver in 2013 and dropped to fourth in 2014 — missing the Olympic team by two spots, were eager to climb their way back up the podium. So they pulled out all the stops, including a quad twist lift, which they nailed.
“I was, like, super shocked at the scores, as you could see by my face, probably, ” Knierim, 27, said. “We’re just super happy we got the quad out, so we have that under our belt now for the next competition. That was the biggest thing we wanted to get done here.”
Landing the quad was the first step in Scimeca and Knierim’s ultimate goal of medaling on the world stage.
“The U.S. pairs need to be more competitive with the international teams and I think if the U.S. teams are capable of stepping it up in any type of element, they should start going for it so we can be more competitive, ” Scimeca said. “Hopefully by 2018 we’ll have some teams in the top five — or top three.”
“I wear the pants in this relationship, ” Scimeca said boldly, before letting out a smile, during a post-event press conference.
“That’s not true, ” Knierim interjected.
Scimeca went on to explain that Knierim is the leader on the ice — a role he has stepped into this year more than ever, after he spent the majority of last season recovering from a foot injury — while she likes to take control in their personal relationship.
Denney and Frazier won the silver medal at their first grand prix assignment of the year, 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America, which marked the top result by a U.S. pairs team on the grand prix circuit since the 2008 NHK Trophy. After that meteoric performance, the 2012 junior national champions were expected by many to win this year’s national title, but Denney and Frazier were just grateful for the progress they made this year.
“When we started this season we had no expectations for where we are today, ” Frazier said. “The way we went into this season, we wanted each performance to be better than the one before and that’s exactly what we’ve been accomplishing.”
At the beginning of the season, Kayne and O’Shea were unsure whether they would be competing at the U.S. championships at all, so their bronze-medal win came as a surprise.
Kayne began the season by having surgery on her right hip on July 28. O’Shea attended and performed at an annual national team camp alone. Eight weeks after surgery, Kayne was back on the ice and spent the next few months relearning jumps and throws. Their first competition was in December.
“We’re just happy that we made it to nationals after the season we’ve had so far, ” Kayne said. “There were definitely times when we didn’t think we would have progressed this much after my surgery to be able to compete, so we’re very happy with both of the performances we put out.”