U.S. Championships pairs preview: One Worlds spot on the line

AP
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Three national champion pair teams are in the field this weekend at the 2019 U.S. Championships in Detroit. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are looking to claim their third national title and defend the one they won last year to vault them onto the Olympic team, while Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea know with only one spot at the world championships, the battle for first place will be hard-fought. Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, the 2017 champions, will also compete.

The short program is Thursday and the free skate is Saturday. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

Here’s a closer look at who might land on the podium.

Husband/wife duo Knierims aiming for third national title

The Knierims, who married in 2016, won the U.S. title in 2015 and 2018. They finished 15th at the world championships and the Olympics in 2018 and said wanted to make a change in their career. They split with longtime coach Dalilah Sappenfield to move to Germany and train with PyeongChang gold medalist Aliona Savchenko. After a few weeks, though, the couple unexpectedly split from Savchenko and moved to California to train with Todd Sand and Jenni Meno. They’ve been the top U.S. pair for several years not but inconsistencies, especially on their jumps, leave them vulnerable to threats from other teams.

MORE: 3 questions with the Knierims

2016 champions Kayne/O’Shea have Worlds on their minds

Kayne and O’Shea also changed coaches for this season, leaving Florida and joining Sappenfield in Colorado Springs. The move to Colorado did Kayne especially good, who has been injured for the last several seasons; with access to the Olympic Training Center, she said she feels healthy and strong before a national championship for the first time in years.

Kayne and O’Shea told reporters on their media call ahead of the competition that the single world championship spot is “on their minds.”

“We have always gone into nationals trying to skate our best, but this year we know we have to go and do that and we have to win,” O’Shea said.

MORE: 3 questions with Kayne and O’Shea

Cain/LeDuc adjusting goals for the season

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc planned to “break out” as the top American pair this season, but their season took a turn when Cain fell on her head coming out of a lift in a small competition in Croatia in December. She was diagnosed with a concussion and was off the ice for several weeks. The pair remains a factor – they’ve been third and fourth at nationals in the past two years – but they may be hampered by their limited training time.

“We are really grateful that we have this opportunity to compete and we will give it everything we have!” Cain wrote in a lengthy Instagram post detailing her recovery and thanking her support team.

Other factors in the field

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier won nationals in 2017. The Florida-based pair missed Grand Prix France in November with Denney’s ankle injury. This year, they are focused on improving their artistry, so watch for that during the U.S. Championships.

Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay have only been together since the spring of 2016 but finished third and fourth at nationals the past two years. Stellato came down with a stomach illness and the pair was forced to withdraw from Rostelecom Cup on the Grand Prix series after the short program. She said she’s been training at full strength now for about six weeks.

MORE: Nathan Chen goes for third national title

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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