It was no coach, no problem for Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim on Saturday at the NHK Trophy in Hiroshima, Japan.
The husband and wife figure skating pair took the bronze medal at the ISU Grand Prix event despite a recent split from 2018 Olympic gold medalist Aljona Savchenko, who had been coaching the pair since spring. The Knierims confirmed that they had parted ways with Savchenko at Skate America in mid-October, and have not announced whether they have paired with another coach.
The coaching situation didn’t appear to hinder the Olympic team bronze medalists in Japan, where they recorded their best result since winning silver at September’s Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany. Their duo’s lifts were the strong point of their elegant free program to James Vincent McMorrow’s “Wicked Game,” but the side by side triple jumps continued to plague them, with Scimeca Knierim putting a hand down on her triple salchow and Knierim stumbling out of a triple toe loop.
Nevertheless, the pair were animated in the kiss and cry following their performance and looked elated to finish on the podium with a combined score of 190.49 points. Russian pair Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert picked up their second consecutive grand prix victory with 214.14, followed by China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, who tallied 207.24.
Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the 2016 U.S. champions, were fifth with 164.16, followed by reigning national junior champions Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov seventh with 149.25.
In the women’s competition, 16-year-old Rika Kihira of Japan lived up to her billing in her senior grand prix debut, landing her celebrated triple axel twice in the free skate — once in combination — to beat teammate Satoko Miyahara for gold, 224.31 to 219.47. Kihara was only fifth after the short program, where she missed her opening triple axel, but roared back with a fiery free to finish atop the podium.
Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion, was a very close third with 219.02, while Mariah Bell was the top American finisher, totaling 198.96 points for fifth in a final where Courtney Hicks finished eighth and Angela Wang 11th.
Olympian Vincent Zhou was the top American finisher in the men’s competition, landing in fourth place behind 2018 Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno (276.45), Russia’s Sergei Voronov (254.28) and Italy’s Matteo Rizzo (147.71). Zhou, fifth after the short program, attempted two quads in the free, and finished with 223.42. Veteran Alex Johnson, skating in his first grand prix event in Hiroshima, was seventh with 199.75.
Team USA still has two chances to medal in ice dance. In the absence of two-time Olympic bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani, who are on hiatus, newcomers Kaitlyn Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker and brother-sister pair Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons have moved to center ice for the U.S. They sit second and third, respectively, following the rhythm dance.
With both performing tango-inspired programs, Hawayek and Baker, who won the Four Continents Championship early this year, earned 70.71 points to the Parsons’ 69.07. The flame-haired Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro of Russia currently sit in first place with 75.49. Saturday evening’s free dance closes out competition in Hiroshima.
The U.S. ice dancing team of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue has already qualified for the Grand Prix Final, which takes place December in Vancouver.