Struggling U.S. pairs cling to hopes

LONDON, Ont. – The good news is the two U.S. pairs entries finished Wednesday’s short program in positions that would assure two spots at the 2014 Olympics.

The bad news is if they don’t move up after Friday’s free skate, they will have the worst combined finish for the top two U.S. teams in the history of the world championships.

Alexa Scimeca-Chris Knierim were 12th despite a solid if not error-free program, while reigning U.S. champions Marissa Castelli-Simon Shnapir took 13th after he fell on the side-by-side jumps.

And that was in a field with just 18 teams.

Not that the United States has done much better in the last decade, which has seen one nadir after another.  The lowest were 11-12 in 2005 and 10-13 in 2004.

Yes, the best U.S. team is not here, as John Coughlin had hip surgery in December and decided in mid-February not to rush back with the OIympic year ahead.

Yes, Scimeca-Knierim and Castelli-Shnapir are world meet rookies.

And, yes, they could move up in the free skate.

Or drop lower.

Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, last year's silver medalists, were first (75.84), with their component scores spelling the difference after she two-footed a jump landing.  Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, fifth last year, were rewarded with second (73.61)for nailing the most difficult technical elements (triple lutz jumps, throw triple lutz) with brio.

Four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany got third (73.47) on reputation rather than an uninspired performance to monotonous music.

Scimeca and Knierim, (55.73) together just 11 months, finished second at nationals and got to worlds when Coughlin and partner Caydee Denney dropped out.  They showed promising signs Wednesday, especially in the striking unison on their combination spin, which he said had been among the weakest parts of their skating.

They recently began taking spin lessons from one-time child skating star Janet Champion, an acclaimed show skater for years.

“We thought we would just start for next year in taking spin lessons, because we have extra funding now (as world team members),” said Scimeca, of Addison, Ill..  “It is paying off really well.”

Maybe some of the unison also comes from their being an item off the ice.

“They find comfort in each other,” said their coach, Dalilah Sappenfield.

Scimeca has been fighting through discomfort in a right foot afflicted with a laundry list of problems.  It forced them to withdraw from last month’s Four Continents Championship.

“Training has been smart,” she said.  “My coach asks me every few moments into the practice how my foot is feeling.  We play every session by ear.”

They lost points Wednesday for her uncertain landing on the throw triple flip and his under rotation on the side-by-side triple jumps.  That the overall score was a personal best was encouraging but still left them light years behind the top five and almost three points from 10th.

“First time (at worlds) for either of us, together or separately, so our expectations were to skate how we skate,” Knierim said.


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