HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- Haven Denney never thought she and Brandon Frazier would win a silver medal at Skate America in Sears Centre Arena outside Chicago.
“Oh my goodness,” Denney said. “If you told us a couple months ago we would be medaling at a grand prix, I probably wouldn’t believe it.”
Yet there she was – again – standing on the medal podium as the second-best pairs figure skating team among a deep international field of competitors.
Both times they were not expected to medal and, still, both times they proved to themselves they are capable of rivaling their idols in the sport.
Saturday night, Denney and Frazier ended the competition with a total score of 192.65, maintaining their placement from Friday’s short program. Ahead of them was Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau, who won with a 197.31. Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took the bronze with 185.94 after a tough free skate erased any sign of the lead they had from the short.
Two years prior, Denney and Frazier finished second at Skate America with a Russian team ahead of them and a Chinese pair beneath them. At the time, they were just 18 and 21 and did not expect to come near the podium in their grand prix debut.
They proved themselves wrong, claiming the best finish by a U.S. pair in six years.
It was déjà vu on Saturday in the same arena, at their first grand prix in almost two years, as they proved themselves wrong again. Both skaters admitted they were not thinking about a placement at all, knowing too well they weren’t yet where they needed to be.
Denney is returning from a major knee injury. She tore her ACL, LCL and meniscus in April 2015.
The ensuing year-and-a-half was filled with trying times for both Denney and Frazier, who were unable to compete at all in the 2015-16 season, finally returning to competition last month when they finished fourth at the B-level Ondrej Nepela Trophy.
The recovery is so fresh Denney is still wearing a soft brace, which she figures she will keep on for the remainder of the season as a precaution and a tool used to transition from the titanium brace she was previously in.
“We’re very appreciative with every opportunity we’ve been given this week,” Frazier said. “Training has been quite a process this week. I told Haven it’s just great to come back to this arena where we came second two years ago and had a strong performance in the free skate, and I think it was a very good emotional feeling this week to put out two strong programs and get us kicked us this season with a strong finish.”
The duo was pleased with their skate and the second-place finish, but Frazier wished they had earned their silver medal a different way. In second with only the talented Russian skaters left to take the ice, he expected to earn a bronze medal. Tarasova fell on their quadruple twist and the couple struggled to regain their footing after that. They finished fifth in the free skate.
“I’m not one to get excited about things like that,” Frazier said, visibly confused and shaken upon learning he finished second. “When I want to jump in front of a team it’s because we were truly the better team, and we know that they are an untouchable team, so it’s not something to celebrate just yet.”