2019 US Nationals Pairs Review: Twists, Turns, and Turbulence

Hello, skating friends, it’s that time of year again when I hold my breath and pray for all my American pairs and their side-by-side jumps. Yep, it’s US Nationals!

First off, I’d rather not make this event all about John Coughlin. But it cuts my heart into pieces to see the skating fandom torn apart like this. As someone who has luckily never been a victim of sexual assault or misconduct, I can’t even imagine what the victims must be going through, and I applaud their bravery for telling their stories. But on the other hand, it’s also hard for the skaters to wrap their heads around the fact that a man who did so much good in their lives could also be capable of so much bad. It’s barely been a week, and I think they are all in shock and even denial. I don’t believe any of these skaters are horrible human beings who condone sexual misconduct; I think they just aren’t ready to accept the truth yet. I never even met John and I’m still having a hard time processing it. It’s easy to deal with the death of a purely evil villain like Lex Luthor. It’s a lot harder when you realize that the person you called Superman did something unthinkable.

At the same time, the red caps made me uncomfortable, and I’m disappointed in Dalilah Sappenfield for thinking this was a good idea. John might’ve been like a son to her and I know her heart must be aching, but bringing the situation to Nationals just opened a new can of worms. It’s really frustrating because this was supposed to be a celebration of the best figure skaters in America, and all people can talk about is Coughlin. Everyone is hurting right now, but hurting each other isn’t going to make the pain stop.

So now that that’s been said, let’s talk about some actual skating.

Cain/LeDuc:

To be honest, Ashley and Tim have really grown on me lately, and it was amazing to see them win Nationals after such a rough accident at Golden Spin just a month ago. Their short program still looks like it involved some cloning of Savchenko/Massot’s “That Man”, but it’s cute and does the trick; not to mention the footwork is really cool. I think I would choose a bolder dress for Ashley though; the pink is a little pale on her fair skin (

Their free skate has some really lovely, modern concepts and plays on their strengths. They remind me of Sui/Han and Walsh/Michaud in the way that they are close in height, which allows them to move like one perfectly synchronized machine. I love this program for them and I’m excited to see it at Worlds.

Denney/Frazier:

Good Lord, I loved Haven and Brandon’s short. I think this new mature, sexy style looks really good on them – not to mention the edgy costumes were fabulous. They looked a little nervous in the beginning, but they delivered it well. Definitely the cleanest short I’ve seen from them in a long time. The free skate has Savchenko/Massot’s “Lighthouse” written all over it, but it’s a right of passage for every team to have one program inspired by the Holy Mother of Pairs, and I enjoyed it. Hopefully the federation will do the right thing and send them to Four Continents.

Stellato/Bartholomay:

To my surprise, Deanna and Nathan got a new short. There’s nothing wrong with it, but their tango program worked better. Deanna is a tough-as-nails diva, and she deserves a program that’s as fierce as she is! Programs aside, their lifts are stunning and remind me of Duhamel/Radford and Sui/Han. Then they laid down this GORGEOUS free skate to a Whitney Houston medley, and Deanna had the best dress of the event, and even with a few tiny mistakes, I still think it was a very satisfying program. It’s honestly criminal we won’t see this program anywhere else this season, but with Kayne/O’Shea’s results on the Grand Prix, I guess it’s fair.

Kayne/O’Shea:

Okay, I’m in love with Tarah and Danny’s short. It’s soft, it’s elegant, and it’s romantic in a quiet, beautiful way. The free skate is one of the better Swan Lake programs I’ve seen – stunning lifts, clever choreography. But smiley Danny as the evil wizard makes me laugh, and why does Tarah shake her tail feathers at the beginning? It’s adorable, but I can’t help laughing.

Calalang/Johnson:

Hands down, the breakout debut here was Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson! For a brand-new team, they showed a lot of strong skills, including a solid twist, throw jumps, and most importantly, great costumes 😂. I’m not about to jinx them, but if anyone is the “bright and promising future of US pairs”, it’s these two. (Now please land your side-by-sides).

Lu/Mitrofanov:

I really like Audrey and Misha, and their jumps, unlike many of these teams, are good. Their programs have a vintage feeling, which is not a bad thing at all. I feel like I’m watching an old film like Gone With the Wind that sweeps you into a bygone era. Or maybe I just really love Moulin Rouge programs.

But seriously, are they going to mess up a lift at every competition? It’s seemed to become a tradition for them. I do really hope they fix that problem, because otherwise they’re a lovely team with great potential.

Scimeca-Knierim/Knierim:

Short version: This did not go well.

Long version: Alexa and Chris’s short program has the coolest pairs choreography this season and that’s the tea. Unfortunately, that choreography isn’t going to SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY aka Worlds if they can’t deliver it clean. And since the aborted lift monster wasn’t content to eat Audrey and Misha, it came for the Knierims in the free. I’m honestly surprised the US fed even gave them the second alternate spot to Worlds. But the worst part is that these two are the closest thing to an elite-level pair that can earn us more spots at Worlds. They’re the only pair so far that has scored over 200 and made a dent in that international field. But we haven’t seen those 200s in ages. And as far as his wrist injury…what kind of man thinks, “okay, I’m gonna lift my little wifey way over my head with my torn wrist while we’re skating at dangerously high speeds that could get her killed?” 🤔 I can understand why, but it’s concerning that he didn’t get that checked any sooner. Since they’re out of 4CC and Worlds now, he’ll have time to get surgery and start recovering for next season. I do hope they keep the programs from this year though, because it’s the best stuff they’ve ever had and I will cry if I don’t see that new short program dress again.

Digerness/Neudecker:

Nica and Danny have a very quiet, pleasing quality to their skating. They’re young, but they’re like a breath of fresh air. I don’t know if they’re going to advance or not in the hierarchy of pairs, but I enjoy their programs.

Smith/Reiss:

I wasn’t really feeling it with Erika and AJ’s short program tbh. But she had a great landing position on the throw jump that caught my eye – great flow, deep knee bend, almost like a Tatiana Volosozhar. I don’t think this was the outing they were looking for, but who knows, they could definitely surprise me next year.

Deardorff/Settlage:

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I’m a sucker for Max Settlage the resident cartoonist and his partner Winter Deardorff. Turns out, that cartoonist can skate! The short program is cool because it’s quiet but it still leaves an impact. Their speed, which was my only objection last year, has improved. A shame about the salchow, but in this house we ignore mistakes by Max. And the free skate was the closest to clean I’ve seen from them! They rounded out the top ten nicely and I think they can be proud of how they skated.

Liu/Meyh:

I remember Chelsea Liu from last year with fond memories – that young, cool girl who I nicknamed Baby Wenjing. Well, she’s back with this new partner Ian Meyh. I like them, but they were doing all doubles instead of triples. Hopefully they can get those jumps bumped up by next year.

Timlen/Highgate-Brutman:

I feel so guilty confessing this: I don’t remember anything from their performance except for the fact that they only did double jumps. Guys, if you see this: I’m sure you’re really nice people, but I’m just a girl who has a bad memory.

Olivia Serafini/Mervin Tran:

I honestly didn’t know these guys were even competing and when I saw them on the screen, I was shocked: it’s Mervin Tran, back from the dead! It’s nice to know that he’s not retired. But the two of them still look a little disconnected, as if they were just doing their own thing out there, and this baby double twist isn’t going to get them Grand Prix events. Hopefully they will take the next year to get their content improved because I’m curious to see if this tree has any potential to grow fruit.

—-

ROUNDUP:

Okay, that was a long and exhausting review to write. I’m going to happily take a break, watch the men’s free skate, and go into hibernation until Four Continents. Until then, happy skating, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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