After nearly a week of action at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, the marquee events got underway Thursday at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
The spotlight turned to the championship pairs and championship ladies competitions, both of which started with the short program before Friday's rhythm dance in pairs and free skate for the ladies.
Below are the full standings from Thursday night and a recap of the action.
Championship Pairs—Short Program
1. Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea (71.83)
2. Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc (70.47)
2. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (68.32)
3. Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay (68.18)
4. Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov (66.21)
5. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson (62.94)
6. Alexa Knierim and Christopher Knierim (61.56)
7. Chelsea Liu and Ian Meyh (59.44)
8. Nica Digerness and Danny Neudecker (58.84)
9. Erika Smith and AJ Reiss (56.25)
10. Allison Timlen and Justin Highgate-Brutman (55.27)
11. Winter Deardorff and Max Settlage (53.14)
12. Olivia Serafini and Mervin Tran (51.32)
Championship Ladies—Short Program
1. Bradie Tennell (76.60)
2. Alysa Liu (73.89)
3. Mariah Bell (70.30)
4. Amber Glenn (69.86)
5. Hanna Harrell (68.16)
6. Emmy Ma (65.13)
7. Megan Wessenberg (60.37)
8. Starr Andrews (58.66)
9. Pooja Kalyan (58.64)
10. Akari Nakahara (57.72)
11. Brynne McIsaac (56.46)
12. Ting Cui (54.64)
13. Courtney Hicks (53.04)
14. Hannah Miller (52.75)
15. Heidi Munger (52.37)
16. Rena Ikenishi (51.01)
17. Julia Biechler (50.98)
18. Sierra Venetta (47.77)
Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea own a slim lead on Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc, as 1.36 points separate them.
Cain and LeDuc's second element largely doomed their chances of setting the pace. Judges deducted 0.95 points from their grade of execution after they under-rotated on their triple-loop attempt.
They recovered to earn a total score of 7.12 for a throw triple lutz, which helped get the rest of their routine back on track.
Despite their early mistake, Cain and LeDuc will be happy with their performance, especially given where they were a little over a month ago. Cain fell head-first on the ice at an event in December. Golden Skate shared Cain's thoughts about how far they've come as a team since then:
Cain and LeDuc are within striking distance of Kayne and O'Shea heading into Friday.
Consistency was the key for the defending silver medalists, who didn't score lower than 4.34 on any of their seven elements. They saved their best for last as their group-four lift earned them 6.92 points, including 1.82 points for grade of execution.
Kayne and O'Shea should feel confident about their chances of holding onto the top spot considering they placed second in last year's free skate, two spots higher than Cain and LeDuc.
At the very least, the pairs competition looks likely to crown new champions.
Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Christopher Knierim earned gold in 2018, but they're in seventh place after the short program. Scimeca-Knierim and Knierim opened with a pair of costly errors.
The team might be able to make up enough ground to get on the podium, but a gap of 10.27 points on Kayne and O'Shea is probably a bridge too far.
Bradie Tennell is on pace to repeat as the champion in the ladies event. With a record-setting score of 76.60, she's 2.71 points clear of Alysa Liu.
Liu set the tone with her performance, so Tennell knew she needed something special to impress the judges. She started big, hitting a triple lutz plus a triple toe loop for a total score of 12.04, making it look effortless in the process.
As well as Tennell skated, Liu was arguably Thursday's biggest star.
Only 13, she became the third American female skater to hit a triple axel. The move opened her routine, and Liu continued to impress the Detroit crowd from there. She delivered a triple lutz and a triple toe loop.
Liu (43.86) got the better of Tennell (41.86) in terms of their respective element scores. Tennell's program components gave her the edge, though, which came as little surprise given the experience gap between the two.
Even if Liu falls short of winning gold, Friday's free skate could be a star-making moment for her.