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Just one U.S. Olympic pairs spot up for grabs at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships

2018 Winter Olympic Games - Season 2018
2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Just one U.S. Olympic pairs spot up for grabs at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim should be the top pair team at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships

The pairs field at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships features several teams with a victory under their belts. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim won in 2015, Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won in 2016, and Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier won in 2017.

Each team has been marred by injury or other off-ice complications. But, with all teams expected to be healthy, it’s the Knierims that should rise back to the top.

The championships are not an official Olympic Trials event, but do count towards what U.S. Figure Skating Association calls a “body of work.” The Olympic selection committee will take into account the results of nationals, the fall 2017 Grand Prix Final and the series overall, plus additional competitions from the prior season. Based on all of this, the 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Team will be chosen to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.

The U.S. can send just one pair team to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. However, they can send two teams to the 2018 World Championships in March, so a second berth for another team is also on the line at nationals.

The pair named to the 2018 Olympic team has an important task: As the only U.S. pair team, they have to compete in the short program and free skates of the team event, and then do the pairs event all within the span of a week.

Here are four pair teams to watch at Nationals:

How to watch the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships on NBCOlympics.com

The figure skating championships act as part of a tiered qualification system for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

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Alexa Scimeca Knierim, 26, and Chris Knierim, 30

Credentials:

  • 2015 national champions
  • 2016 national silver medalists
  • 2016 Four Continents Championships silver medalists

Buzz about the Knierims: They were the first U.S. pair to execute a quad twist in competition, doing so at the 2015 Nationals. Since Alexa’s recovery from abdominal surgeries in 2016, they weren’t adding the element to their programs. It could make a comeback in San Jose.

Their season so far: The team captured a silver medal at September’s U.S. International Classic. Then, they competed twice on the Grand Prix circuit. They finished fifth at both NHK Trophy in Japan and Skate America.

Notes: They’ve been through an Olympic-year nationals once before. Before the 2013-14 season, Chris broke his fibula. The team was healthy for 2014 Nationals, where they placed fourth. With only two Olympic berths that year for the U.S., the Knierims were not named to the Olympic team.

They teamed up in 2012 and were married in 2016.

Who are Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim?

Get to know figure skaters Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim and their major accomplishments before they compete at the 2018 Olympics

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Ashley Cain, 22, and Timothy LeDuc, 27:

Credentials:

  • 2017 national bronze medalists

Buzz about Cain and LeDuc: They are a relatively new pairs team, only partnering in 2016. However, their first season together, Cain and Leduc captured bronze medals at nationals and placed ninth at the Four Continents Championships.

Their season so far: Cain and LeDuc began their season at Lombardia, where they placed fourth. Then, they moved onto Nebelhorn, where they finished seventh. At their lone Grand Prix assignment, at Cup of China, they placed sixth.

Notes: Cain competed in both pairs and singles skating before committing to just pairs with LeDuc in June 2016. LeDuc was also a pairs skater who had stepped back from competition – he was a skater on a cruise ship in the meantime – before teaming with Cain.

Q&A with Timothy LeDuc

Timothy LeDuc is a U.S. pairs skater alongside partner Ashley Cain

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Haven Denney, 22, and Brandon Frazier, 25:

Credentials:

  • 2017 national champions
  • 2013 world junior champions

Buzz about Denney and Frazier: They missed the entire 2015-16 after Denney needed surgery to repair an injured knee. But, once they returned, they had one of their best seasons, winning their first national title in 2017. However, mistakes in the short program at the 2017 World Championships left them 20th overall.

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Their season so far: Denney and Frazier began their season at the U.S. International Classic in September, where they finished fourth overall. At both of their Grand Prix series assignments, at Skate Canada and Skate America, they placed seventh.

Notes: When they started together as a team, it wasn’t on the ice – originally, Denney and Frazier were a roller skating pairs team.

Q&A with Haven Denney

Pairs skater Haven Denney details her near-career-ending injury and her recovery process

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Tarah Kayne, 24, and Danny O’Shea, 26

Credentials:

  • 2016 national champions
  • 2014 Four Continents Championships silver medalists

Their season so far: Kayne and O’Shea have only had one competition this season. They withdrew from their Grand Prix assignment in the fall, but competed at the Golden Spin event in December. They earned the bronze at that event.  

Buzz about Kayne and O’Shea: Because of their shortened season, it’ll be important to take note of how they look in San Jose. It could determine if their season will extend to Worlds or not.

Notes: They won their first and only national title in 2016. At the 2017 nationals, in pursuit of their second title, the team was forced to withdraw after the short program. Kayne had a bad fall and later revealed she had a concussion. Soon after, she had knee surgery for an unrelated injury.

Q&A with Tarah Kayne

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Other notable names in the pairs field at nationals:

Marissa Castelli, 27, and Mervin Tran, 27: Castelli won the U.S. national pairs title with former partner Simon Shnapir in 2013 and 2014. They participated in the team event at the Sochi Olympics and won bronze medals; they finished ninth in the pairs event. Tran has competed on pairs teams representing Japan, Canada, and now the U.S. They are not eligible for the Olympics, but could be a podium spoiler. 

Deanna Stellato, 34, and Nathan Bartholomay, 28:  Stellato, who stands 4-11, is a former singles skater who restarted her career via pairs skating in 2016. She won the Junior Grand Prix Final in 1999 and a world junior championship silver medal in 2000 as a singles skater, before retiring at 17 due to injuries. Bartholomay competed at the 2014 Olympics in the pairs event with former partner Felicia Zhang; they finished 12th. At last year’s nationals, Stellato and Bartholomay finished fourth.

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