(L-R) Haven Denny and Brandon Frazier competing in the pairs event at 2019 Skate America on Oct. 19, 2019 in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS – Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have held a deep connection to “The Lion King” soundtrack since their 2014-15 free skate to that music led to their most successful senior season to date.
Since, both skaters have had it in their heads that they would one day return to that music. Five seasons later, it has paid off.
Denney and Frazier have again found their way to “The Lion King” and again found their way to the podium.
Five years after earning their first grand prix medal, a silver at the 2014 Skate America, they claimed Skate America bronze Saturday afternoon at Orleans Arena. Cheng Peng and Yang Jin of China won with a 200.89 total, Russia’s Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin were second with 196.98, and Denney and Frazier scored 192.70.
Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, the reigning U.S. champions who were third after the short program, had a number of mistakes in a free skate performance Cain-Gribble said “felt so foreign,” and fell to fifth with a total of 177.54. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson were fourth (180.52) in their first grand prix outing together.
“I think we always knew that we wanted to bring the program back because it’s so much fun and we love performing it so much,” Denney said about their free skate. “We always felt like, one day we’re going to bring it back. This year, with the new movie coming out and the new soundtrack, we knew this was a good year to do it.”
“I remember (our last season with this program) was definitely a highlight and our most successful senior season, and we went to worlds in Shanghai and when we finished with this program, it didn’t leave off with our full potential,” Frazier added.
“Deep down in my heart, no matter what, after the injury and everything that’s transpired with Haven and I, I knew if we keep competing we had to bring it back one year and make it better.”
The program does appear better, and so is their performance of it, so much so that that they could not control their emotion during the second half, showing tears of joy and fist pumps of excitement. It earned them 127.52, the second-highest free skate score and .66 from the top score.
Frazier, 26, credits coach John Zimmerman with helping to improve his physical fitness so that they have the stamina to get through the lifts at the close of the program.
“He does a great job preparing us, especially when you have a little extra pressure when you’re performing and your legs give out a little earlier than they should,” Frazier said. “I feel the best shape of my life this season, and knock on wood. I have definitely been having to change my diet a little bit, eat certain things. I’m not 21 anymore, so I can’t just show up to the rink and try to do it all. John has done a great job of putting us on a program. His workouts are very well coordinated, smart to push our bodies where they need to be.”
This marks Denney and Frazier’s third Skate America medal in four outings. The rest of their resume, however, is a bit of a roller coaster. They have placed 12th and 20th at their two world championships appearances (2015, ’17), and won the U.S. title in 2017 and claimed silver in both 2015 and 2019, but were fifth in 2013, 2014 and 2018.
Denney underwent knee surgery in April 2015, following that breakthrough “Lion King” season, and had a stress fracture in her ankle in 2018. They have also changed coaches and training locations a few times.
Finally, the team feels it is back on track.
“I told Haven a week ago that sometimes competing seems more stressful than it needs to be, and I just want to enjoy it again,” Frazier said. “Out there was the first time I felt like we got to the end. It was a fight, we left points on the table of course, but I haven’t felt like that in a long time. …
“I am beyond proud of what Haven and I were able to do this week. … We have so much trust in each other, so much love for the sport, and we just want to share that love with everyone else. It was a great moment."