By Nick McCarvel | March 21, 2019, 10:24 a.m. (ET)

Timothy Leduc and Ashley Cain compete at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships on March 21, 2019 in Saitama, Japan. 

 

The U.S. will send two pairs figure skating teams to worlds in 2020 following Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc’s ninth-place finish at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan.

It’s the first time since 2017 that two pairs teams will go, after Team USA was able to send just one pair to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, as well as worlds that year.

“Goal accomplished!” exclaimed Cain as her and LeDuc’s free skate score came through, assuring them a top-10 finish. Their 193.81 total was some 17 points higher than the 10th-place team. They needed to land within the top 10 to secure the second spot.

China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won their second world title, leapfrogging the leaders after the short program, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia, who finished second.

It caps a successful season for Cain and LeDuc – only their third together, though it was interrupted briefly yet scarily by a concussion for Cain in December, when she fell awkwardly on her neck at a competition in Croatia.

Cain would recover, and the Dallas-based duo would go on to win its first U.S. national title six weeks later, then finished fourth and as the top American team at Four Continents Figure Skating Championships last month in Anaheim, California.

It’s the best finish by a U.S. pair at worlds since Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim landed in the same place in 2016 in Boston.

“After the scores came up, there was this moment of, ‘We’re here and we did this,’” said LeDuc, 28, about the goals they had set. “At the beginning of the season we had the goal to get a grand prix medal, win the national championships and then go to worlds and get the two spots back and we accomplished all of that. After everything we went through… we had a whole team around us that helped us make it possible.”

“We’re only going to go up from here,” stated Cain, 23. “We felt like mentally we achieved so much. We can apply that in the future.”

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After a fall on their side-by-side jumps in the short program, Cain fell again in the free skate, missing a throw triple Salchow that she said after should have been “easy.” Otherwise, the team was near-perfect in what was their first world championships appearance.

Their free skate, set to the “W.E.” soundtrack, features the duo in strong silver full-body suits, and accentuates what the two have explained in the past to be “two pillars of strength,” Cain and LeDuc each representing as much.

Despite the fall, which came in the second half of the program, they were steely and powerful throughout. 

“So close!” Cain exclaimed as the two skated off the ice post-program, referring to her fall.

“It wasn’t the perfect program, but we accomplished our goal, which was to earn the two spots back for the U.S.,” Cain said after in the mixed zone. “We took on that responsibility and put in the work back home. We had the fall on the (throw) and my (side-by-side) Salchow was wonky, but we couldn’t let anything go. We tried to get every level and knew everything counted. That’s why we got the two spots today.” 

Asked how the pressure in Saitama felt compared to the U.S. championships in January, LeDuc said it was hard to compare the two. 

“For us, nationals was an internal goal and this was an external one,” he shared. “We feel like we gained great tools in this competition to use in the future.” 

U.S. pairs skater Danny O’Shea (who partners with Tarah Kayne) tweeted his support of Cain/LeDuc after it was confirmed that a second spot was secured. The likes of Kayne/O’Shea, the Knierims, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, as well as Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, will chase said worlds spots in 2020, in addition to Cain/LeDuc.

LeDuc told Cain on the ice that they had achieved said goal, to which she responded, “I hope so!”

All four teams have competed at the worlds stage, setting up for what will be competitive fight for said two spots come next year at U.S. championships, set for Greensboro, North Carolina.

Cain and LeDuc finish a year of many firsts, as LeDuc noted, including bronze at Skate America, their national title and qualifying at worlds. 

Cain is set to be married in June to fiancé Dalton Gribble. Their planned honeymoon will be her first trip without skates “in years,” she said last fall.

The U.S. team in 2020 will be bigger than its 13 this year for worlds, though the women’s free skate will determine if Mariah Bell and Bradie Tennell can earn back a third spot for the U.S. with a combined total of 13 or lower, currently seen as a tough ask considering their sixth- and 10th-place short programs.