U.S. wins first figure skating worlds pairs’ title since 1979; Ashley Cain-Gribble hurt in fall

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Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier became the first U.S. pair to win a world figure skating title since 1979, competing immediately after fellow American Ashley Cain-Gribble fell three times and withdrew with partner Timothy LeDuc.

Knierim and Frazier, sixth at the Olympics, posted the highest scores in the short program and free skate to win by 21.54 points over Japanese Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara. Canadians Vanessa James and Eric Radford took bronze in Montpellier, France.

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“I’ve dreamed about this moment for so many times, but this was even better,” said Frazier, a junior world champion in 2013 with previous partner Haven Denney who made his Olympic debut with Knierim last month. Knierim won three U.S. titles with husband Chris, and went to the 2018 Olympics, before he retired in 2020.

The last American pair to win worlds was Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner in 1979.

The top five teams from the Olympics — all Russians and Chinese — were not entered at worlds, making both American teams medal favorites in the country’s weakest discipline over the last two decades. The U.S. last won a pairs’ medal in 2002. Russia was banned. China sent zero skaters overall.

Knierim and Frazier totaled personal bests in both programs and won by the largest pairs’ margin in either the Olympics or world championships since the points-based scoring system was introduced in 2006.

They did so minutes after Cain-Gribble fell on a pair of side-by-side jumps, a triple loop and a triple Salchow, and on a throw triple Lutz.

She lay on the ice after the Salchow, was tended to by LeDuc, then was standing before being taken off on a stretcher and to a hospital for evaluation, according to U.S. Figure Skating.

“I was startled because you remember how dangerous skating can be,” Knierim said. “Even when you’re most prepared, something can happen, but I knew there was nothing I could do in that moment to help them.”

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc were in second after the short, looking to give the U.S. its first one-two in any worlds event since Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan in 1997.

“Our hearts go out to our training mates, Ashley and Timothy,” Frazier said. “They’re our friends first, competitors second, so we wish them a very speedy recovery.”

Knierim and Frazier’s total score — 221.09 — would have placed fourth at the Olympics.

They suffered the biggest challenges of their career, separately, over the same year span.

In spring and summer 2016, Knierim came down with hard-to-diagnose stomach problems, including vomiting episodes, emergency room visits and three abdominal surgeries over an eight-month ordeal.

In March 2017, Denney and Frazier finished 20th in the world championships short program, failing to qualify for the 16-skater free skate and reducing the U.S. to one pairs’ spot at the 2018 Olympics.

Worlds continue Friday with the rhythm dance and women’s free skate.

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