Recently crowned national champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who withdrew from the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships before it started when Frazier contracted Covid-19, were named to the U.S. Olympic team Sunday morning.
At an average age of 29.6 years old, they make up the oldest U.S. Olympic pairs’ figure skating team in 90 years.
LeDuc, 31, became the first openly gay athlete to win gold in a U.S. pairs’ event in 2019 and this year the first publicly out non-binary athlete to win a U.S. Championships event in any discipline. Next month they will become the first publicly out non-binary athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.
The U.S. returns to fielding two Olympic pairs’ teams for next month’s Beijing Winter Olympics after only qualifying one — Knierim and her husband Chris — for PyeongChang in 2018. Though this week was expected to see a battle between Cain-Gribble/LeDuc, Knierim/Frazier and two-time reigning U.S. silver medalists Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who again finished second on Saturday, the teams selected represent the two most recent U.S. champions and the top U.S. pairs’ teams at the two most recent world championships. It is an impressive squad, with seven of the last eight U.S. titles captured between the four skaters.
Calalang and Johnson were named first alternates, with Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov second alternates and Emily Chan/Spencer Howe third, following the order of results at nationals.
A strong finish by either team at the Olympics could produce the first top-five finish by Americans in pairs in 20 years.
Unable to contend for the title in Nashville, Knierim and Frazier petitioned onto the team and were chosen based on a body of work over the past year that includes seventh at the 2021 World Championships in their first season together and Grand Prix finishes of third and fourth this fall, the best for any U.S. team.
Knierim is the only member of the team with Olympic experience and the first U.S. pairs’ skater to return to an Olympics in 20 years. She and Chris were 15th in 2018 and helped the U.S. to a bronze medal in the team event. In Beijing she will become the oldest U.S. women’s pairs’ Olympian in 30 years.
U.S. champions in 2015, 2018 and 2020, the Knierims ended their competitive skating partnership in 2020, just when 2017 U.S. champs Frazier, 29, and Haven Denney ended theirs. The longtime friends then teamed up for one of the fastest rising U.S. pairs’ teams in history. Chris is now one of the team’s coaches.
Cain-Gribble, 26, and LeDuc are in their sixth season competing together and have consistently placed in the top four at the U.S. Championships, winning in 2019 and 2021 plus taking bronze in 2017 and 2021. They were ninth at their 2019 and 2021 world championships appearances.
The pairs’ teams join Mariah Bell, Karen Chen and Alysa Liu on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. The three ice dance teams and three men will be named later Sunday.
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