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Knierim and Frazier first U.S. pairs’ team to lead at worlds in 43 years


US Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Brandon Frazier perform during the pairs’ short program event at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Montpellier, southern France, on March 23, 2022. (Photo by Sylvain THOMAS / AFP) (Photo by SYLVAIN THOMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Two U.S. pairs’ teams lead the field after the short program at the World Figure Skating Championships, a statement never before uttered.

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier were first with 76.88 points and fellow 2022 U.S. Olympians Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc second with 75.85 points in Wednesday’s short program.

At the sport’s world championships, ‘small medals’ are awarded to the top three in the short program and the top three in the free skate.

This is the first time in 16 years that any American pairs’ team earned a small medal at worlds and the first time in 43 years that it was gold.

“I think it’s the result of a lot of hard work from the athletes, from the coaches and from the U.S. Figure Skating staff to help ensure that pairs can achieve such a high level of success at the world championships,” LeDuc said.

“I think, as well, we all really respect each other and we have a very healthy, competitive atmosphere around us,” Cain-Gribble added. “We both want to be the best but we’re also willing each other to have the space to do that, so I think it just comes from a lot of success.”

Knierim and Frazier’s score was a personal best -- they earned 75.00 points in the Olympic team event last month -- and clearly the best performance of their “The House of the Rising Sun” program this season.

“Alexa and I were very proud of what we put out,” Frazier said. “Every time we go out, we’re just trying to grow and grow these programs, so it was a great way to finish this program off for the season.”

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Cain-Gribble and LeDuc’s score in Montpellier, France, is their highest of the season. Their only mistake came on the side-by-side triple loop when Cain-Gribble put her hand down on the landing.

“We’re super excited with our performance, super excited for our position right now and super excited about U.S. pairs,” LeDuc said.

The two U.S. teams are within a point of each other, with Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara are over four points back after earning a 71.58. This is the first pairs’ medal for Japan.

The American and Japanese teams separated themselves from the rest of the pack and are expected to remain on the podium. Georgia’s Karina Safina and Luka Berulava are in fourth with 67.36 points, followed by Vanessa James and Eric Radford of Canada with 66.54.

The order of the podium will likely change after Thursday’s free skate: Miura and Kihara enter worlds with the highest free skate score of the season (141.04 from the Olympics), while Knierim and Frazier scored 138.45 points there and Cain-Gribble and LeDuc earned 132.04 points at NHK Trophy in November.

Knierim/Frazier, Miura/Kihara and Cain-Gribble/LeDuc were sixth, seventh and eighth at the Olympics but became podium favorites for Montpellier once Russian skaters were barred from the event, as a result of their country’s invasion of Ukraine, and China did not enter any skaters.

“I don’t care who’s here, who’s not here,” revered pairs’ coach Bruno Marcotte, who works with Miura and Kihara, said during the press conference. “These were all winning performances, no matter who was here.”

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