(L-R) Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier compete during the pairs short program at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 18, 2022 in Beijing.
Team USA’s pairs and women’s medal hopes soared at the 2022 World Figure Skating Championships in Montpellier, France, on Wednesday.
First, Mariah Bell skated a personal best program to place third in the women’s short, the first time since 2016 a U.S. woman has landed in the top three entering the free skate.
A few hours later, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier performed a career-best short program to lead teammates Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc by 1.03 points, putting a U.S. pair on the cusp of winning a world pairs title for the first time since 1979.
“Every time we come out and compete, we’re trying to grow each program,” Frazier, 29, said. “It’s a great way to finish this short program off for the season.”
In a dynamic performance to “House of the Rising Sun,” the 2021 U.S. champions nailed all seven of their elements, including a big, opening triple twist, side-by-side triple toe loop jumps and a strong throw triple flip. Their 76.88 points is nearly two points higher than their previous personal best score, earned during their sixth-place finish at the 2022 Olympics.
“Going out and skating well — skating like we do at practice — is very fulfilling,” Knierim, 30, said.
Cain and LeDuc, two-time and reigning U.S. champions, notched a new personal best of 75.85 points with an elegant and sophisticated program to “The White Crow” soundtrack, highlighted by smooth, intricate steps and a solid throw triple lutz. Their only error was Cain’s hand down on the landing of a triple loop.
“We’ve been training really strong all season, we’ve been building, building, building,” LeDuc, 31, said. “We’ve put in so much training, we just want that to show, so we’re ready to go out there and execute like we do in practice.”
While both pairs’ programs would be competitive at any championships, U.S. medal hopes are undeniably aided by the absence of Russian and Chinese pairs, who took the top five spots at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 last month. The International Skating Union barred Russia’s participation, due to its invasion of Ukraine. It is not known why China elected not to send any competitors to Montpellier.
“At the end of the day, we can’t control circumstances,” Frazier said of the lack of Russian and Chinese competitors. “We just come in and focus on ourselves, just try to do our best. For us, we view the opportunity as just another event after the Olympics to come out perform and (live up to) our potential.”
Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, seventh at the Olympics, placed third in the short program with 71.58 points.
The pairs event concludes on Thursday when skaters take the ice for their free skates.
Bell arrived in Montpellier without either of her regular coaches, Rafael Arutunian or Adam Rippon, but that didn’t stop the U.S. champion from skating a personal best short.