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US Figure Skating Championships 2021: Results for Pairs, Ladies Short Program

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2021

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier perform during the pairs short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are still more than a year away, but the top American figure skaters are looking for a different type of gold medal this week at the 2021 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Things got underway Thursday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas with the pairs short program and the ladies short program.

The top individual women will finish their competition Friday during the ladies free, while the pairs finish with their free skate on Saturday. 

Here is a look at the results for Thursday's short programs.

          

Championship Pairs Short Program

1. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, 77.46

2. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, 71.30

3. Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov, 69.56

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4. Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, 65.81

5. Emily Chan and Spencer Howe, 60.41

6. Olivia Serafini and Mervin Tran, 59.23

7. Katie McBeath and Nathan Bartholomay, 58.23

8. Evelyn Grace Hanns and Jim Garbutt, 47.98

9. Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow, 45.34 

*Results via U.S. Figure Skating's official website

         

The biggest storyline coming into competition was the Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier pairing.

After all, Knierim won a bronze medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in a team event and three U.S. pairs titles (2015, 2018 and 2020) with her husband and former partner, Chris. Frazier and his former partner, Haven Denney, won the national title in 2017.

While it seems like a dynamic pairing on paper, this was the first time Knierim and Frazier skated together at nationals.

"Our tryout got cut short, because of the [COVID-19] lockdowns," Frazier said before the competition, per Lynn Rutherford of NBC Sports. "But we didn't need the whole normal, traditional tryout to make the decision. I mean, we grabbed each other's hand on the ice and did a lap of crossovers. And I just was like, 'Yeah, it's going to work.'"

Work it did, as the Knierim-Frazier pairing set the tone from the start.

They put on a graceful and nearly flawless performance compared to the competition and are now more than six points clear of the second-place team of Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson.

Anything but victory for the pair in their first U.S. championships together would be a shocking result, as they appeared as comfortable with each other as they did with their former partners. That development alone spells trouble for the rest of the field, as the only realistic chance for the challengers was a lack of chemistry and practice time spilling into the competition for Knierim and Frazier.

The race for second place figures to be closer, as the Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov pairing and Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc pairing are well within striking distance of Calalang and Johnson.

Still, everyone is looking up at Knierim and Frazier.

        

Championship Ladies Short Program 

1. Bradie Tennell, 79.40

2. Alysa Liu, 76.36

3. Mariah Bell, 72.37

4. Karen Chen, 70.99

5. Amber Glenn, 70.83

6. Lindsay Thorngren, 62.54

7. Gabriella Izzo, 62.32

8. Rena Ikenishi, 60.14

9. Pooja Kalyan, 58.29

10. Audrey Shin, 57.74

11. Hanna Harrell, 56.93

12. Gracie Gold, 53.88

13. Heidi Munger, 52.11

14. Finley Hawk, 52.08

15. Emilia Murdock, 51.25

16. Violeta Ushakova, 49.76

17. Starr Andrews, 45.93

*Results via U.S. Figure Skating's official website

           

There was no shortage of star power in the ladies short program.

Gracie Gold won a bronze medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and is a two-time U.S. champion. She was solid at the U.S. Championship Series and bounced back from a disappointing showing at Skate America in October.

Gold may be the Olympic medalist, but Alysa Liu was the headliner coming into Thursday's competition as the two-time defending champion at just 15 years old.

Still, Philip Hersh of NBC Sports suggested defending her crown would be an uphill battle as she works her way back from a hip injury. She also faced a number of challenges this year because of closed rinks in the Bay Area where she trains and a number of coaching changes.

"Obviously, you want to win, but the most important thing will be to skate my best," Liu said. "You can win and skate bad, and you don't feel so good about yourself. I would rather skate very well and not focus on placement."

While she did not attempt her patented triple axel given some of the uncertainties in the lead-up, she was surely pleased with how well she skated. Liu was in the final group and catapulted to the lead with a head-turning performance. Her jumps were all clean, and she put herself in position to challenge for a third straight title.

Gold, on the other hand, struggled with a handful of technical mistakes. She also fell on one of her jumps and does not appear to be a challenger.

Bradie Tennell very much is a challenger and concluded the competition with the best showing. She moved ahead of even Liu with a combination of technical brilliance and execution and is primed to return to the top of the podium at the U.S. Championships for the first time since 2018.