Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc are within striking distance of earning back a second pairs spot for Team USA at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships following a ninth-place finish in the short program.
Despite a fall from Cain on the team’s side-by-side triple loop jumps, the Dallas-based duo scored a 66.93, just one point shy of their international best. They are less than four points out from the sixth-place team (Russia’s Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, 69.99) heading into the free skate, which will take place Thursday morning in Saitama, Japan (Wednesday night U.S. time).
Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia lead after the short program with a score of 81.21.
It’s the first world championship appearance for Cain, 23, and LeDuc, 28, the reigning U.S. champions.
In pairs, the U.S. is trying to earn back a second spot at worlds for the first time since 2017. Cain and LeDuc must finish within the top 10 to do so.
“I was just really far forward” on that jump, Cain said, explaining her fall. “I was happy how I recovered from it, but as an athlete I am upset with myself and I want to do better in the free.”
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Cain suffered a concussion in December on a fall during a competition in Croatia. The duo recovered in time for the U.S. championships six weeks later, where they beat out a field that included Olympians Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim as well as former worlds competitors Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, and Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea.
Last month, Cain/LeDuc placed fourth at the Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, California, in a field that included former world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China.
“We scored a 129 (in the free at Four Continents), which is a season’s best internationally. We would love to break 130,” explained LeDuc. “I’m just very proud of the way Ashley recovered after that fall... That is the way we have been training, the way we did the second half of the program. So we hope to do that in the free.”
Coached by Ashley’s parents, Darlene and Peter Cain, the team enlisted famed pairs coach Nina Mozer this season to help improve their presentation and international credence.
“The overall packaging (from Nina) has been a huge benefit for us,” LeDuc told reporters on a call earlier this month. “Getting different input and learning different ways of training really helps us, too. We’ve been able to adapt some of her techniques. She’s also really good on the mental side — reading us and telling us what we need to do.”
What they’ll need to do in the free skate is deliver a strong performance, much like they did at U.S. championships and Four Continents to assure that second spot.