2018 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships | Inspired Knierims Lead Pairs Field

By Lynn Rutherford

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Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim arrive in San Jose as favorites for their second U.S. title as well as the single U.S. pairs’ spot in PyeongChang. (Two pairs spots are up for grabs for the 2018 World Championships.) They have four World top-10 finishes to their credit and hold the highest international scores ever earned by a U.S. pairs team. But it’s their 10th-place finish at the 2017 World Championships, accomplished while Alexa was still regaining strength from three abdominal surgeries in 2016, that fills them with confidence.

“We proved to ourselves at our lowest and weakest point that we can still compete and do well,” Alexa said. “Now, being strong and healthy and training well, we feel like we can take up any challenge. Because of last year, we know we can overcome anything.”

The couple, married in June 2016, reprises their free skate to music from the Ghost musical, including the classic ballad “Unchained Melody,” and their romantic story is sure to touch the San Jose crowd. But landing their side-by-side triple jumps is a key to regaining the title they won in 2015.

“I need to be consistent with (my jump) technique,” Chris said. “When I do that, I land the jumps every time.”

After a disappointing 2017 World Championships where they failed to qualify for the free skate, U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier went back to basics, re-tuning their triple jumps, triple twist and throw triple jumps, and working with choreographer Marina Zoueva to perfect their skating and performance skills. Like other U.S. pairs, U.S. silver medalists Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran seek greater jump consistency, and worked with Arutunian this summer to improve their technique.

For Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, a bigger triple twist and high-difficulty lifts are big goals, and the U.S. bronze medalists left their home base in Texas to travel to Sochi, Russia, several times this season to train with Nina Mozer, coach of many top Russian teams.

Get the full 2018 U.S. Championships preview ahead of the event in this month’s SKATING.