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Canadians win, but Scimeca, Knierim impress

Gonzales takes senior men's crown, Johnson skates top short at Skate Detroit

Surging U.S. pairs team Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim with coach Dalilah Sappenfield.
Surging U.S. pairs team Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim with coach Dalilah Sappenfield. (Jacque Tiegs)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/29/2012) - As expected, 2011 Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch won the senior pairs short program and free skate at Skate Detroit, but the athletic new duo of Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim caught everyone's attention.

The Colorado Springs-based team, coached by Dalilah Sappenfield and Larry Ibarra, gave the Canadians a run for their money in the short. They gained the event's highest technical element score (TES) with an ambitious program to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" that included a triple twist, throw triple flip and side-by-side triple Salchows, earning 58.49 points to the Canadian's 59.47.

"We teamed up almost four months ago; my former partner [Ivan Dimitrov] and I trained in Connecticut, and after we split within a couple of weeks, I was paired up with Chris," Scimeca, 21, said. "I love being in Colorado; it really feels like home."

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, the U.S. junior champions, earned 50.18 for their short, placing third. Margaret Purdy and Michael Marinaro of Canada were fourth. Two other new U.S. pairs, Caitlin Yankowskas and Joshua Reagan, and Kiri Baga and Taylor Toth, were fifth and sixth, respectively.

Last season, Knierim placed seventh at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with Andrea Poapst, but the two split this spring, with Poapst moving to Los Angeles. Scimeca and Dimitrov placed 10th at the U.S. championships.

"Chris has more experience than I do in pairs and he is really my backbone when we skate," Scimeca said. "He makes me feel confident and calm. We have a good connection on and off the ice."

The 24-year-old Knierim, who won the 2009 U.S. junior silver medal with Brynn Carman and also partnered Carolyn-Ann Alba for a time, has high hopes for his new partnership.

"Alexa is the first partner I've had who has had pair experience; the others were all good skaters but new to skating pairs," he said.

Scimeca and Knierim's free skate, to the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack, didn't go quite as well as their short, with a few stumbles on jumps. Still, they hit their big pair elements and earned 98.19 points. Moore-Towers and Moscovitch had a strong skate for 116.67 points, while Denney and Frazier gained 99.90.

"We had a nice start with the triple twist and throw triple flip, and then I messed up on the triple Salchow," Knierim said. "We got it back; we had a nice pair spin and good throw triple loop, and then I messed up on the jumps again."

"Overall, the program is good; we just have to do more run-throughs and work on the conditioning," Scimeca said. "As of now, we don't know what our next competition will be. We will have to wait and see."

Denney and Frazier's free skate, choreographed by Canadian Julie Marcotte to music from La Strada, took second place.

"There are a lot of good qualities to this program, and we're eager to get back home and work on it," Frazier, 19, said. "We're not too disappointed in this competition; it was pretty much our first senior competition up against other senior pairs.

"The twist and lifts were a lot better than our last time out, and we did a really good throw triple Salchow. We had a silly mistake, put a hand down on the side-by-side double Axels, and popped the triple Salchow."

Both skaters enjoyed spending time in Montreal with Marcotte, who also choreographs for world bronze medalists Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran, and Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.

"I love Julie; she's awesome," Denney, 16, said. "It was interesting and so much fun to work with her."

"She gave us exactly what we needed, program-wise," Frazier said. "Hopefully, we will be able to go back to Montreal before nationals to freshen up some things. We will see how the season plays out."

The team, fourth at the 2012 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, elected to compete in the Junior Grand Prix series and will skate at the upcoming event in Lake Placid.

"We chose to do this, to get our [ISU ranking] points up," Frazier said. "We're excited about competing in seniors at the U.S. championships; that's our priority. We're lucky to be able to do juniors internationally for another season, and hopefully training senior will help make our junior program stronger."

Johnson wins men's short, Gonzales men's free

Another Colorado Springs skater, Alex Johnson, won the senior men's short with a clean skate to Gershwin's "Concerto in F," choreographed by his coach, Tom Dickson. It included a triple Axel, triple flip-double toe and triple Lutz.

"My jumps have come a long way since last year," Johnson said. "This was a good confidence booster and a great way to start the season.

"We've been working on the technique of my triple flip, and it hasn't been as consistent but it's getting there. We're also working to make the spins a little faster, and a few other adjustments."

Johnson earned 66.35 points, edging 2011 world junior champion Andrei Rogozine of Canada by 0.63 points. Andrew Gonzales was third, with another Canadian, Elladj Balde, fourth.

Gonzales turned the tables in the free skate, landing a clean triple Axel for the first time in competition in his program to Tosca and earning 191.56 points for the win.

"This is the first time I've landed the Axel on one foot and checked out," Gonzales said. "It was a clean skate; I just stepped out of my first triple flip.

"I'm very happy. This is a new beginning, after not making U.S. nationals last season. I had a solid short and a solid free."

Skating to the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," Johnson took second with 190.06 total points. Rogozine was third with 179.37 points.