Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc showed their determination to earn one of two Olympic spots available for American pairs’ teams Thursday when they set a U.S. Figure Skating Championships record to lead the field.
Cain-Gribble and LeDuc earned 79.39 points for their short program set to “The White Crow,” besting the rest of the field by almost two points and their previous U.S. Championships record by nearly nine.
“We’re grateful to be doing something that we love,” LeDuc said. “We’re really pleased with our effort today, we feel like we did what we do in practice. Just looking forward to a great effort in the free skate.”
Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson are in second with 77.48 points, followed by Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov (68.11).
They compete next in Saturday’s pairs’ free skate before the Olympic team is announced Sunday.
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The previous U.S. Championships record was 77.46, set last year by champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier; the current scoring system has been in place since the 2018-19 season.
Knierim and Frazier entered the week as favorites to win a second title in Nashville, a dream that was halted on Wednesday when they withdrew after Frazier tested positive for Covid-19.
The team intends to petition for a spot on the Olympic team, which is selected based on athletes’ bodies of work from last January’s U.S. Championships through this week’s, and in that year Knierim and Frazier have continued to be the top U.S. pairs’ team at each level.
In their absence, though, it was Cain-Gribble and LeDuc who stood out as they work to make their Olympic debuts next month in Beijing.
If they are named to the team, LeDuc will become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.
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The last time Cain-Gribble and LeDuc led after the short program at a U.S. Championships was five years ago, when they ultimately finished third in their debut season as a pair.
They have had a roller-coaster career since, winning the U.S. title in 2019, when LeDuc became the first openly gay athlete to win gold in a U.S. pairs’ event, before finishing fourth and third at the event in the years that followed.
Cain-Gribble has notably had her fair share of health struggles in that time. She fell on her head while exiting a lift during a December 2018 performance, suffering a concussion. Leading into this season, she contracted Covid-19 in August and developed asthma as a result.
“Every day I have to take a steroid and I have to use my inhaler twice a day in order to get through training,” Cain-Gribble said. “It’s definitely been something very new I’ve had to learn to deal with, but at this point it does feel very normal.”
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