2017 U.S. Nationals: Pairs Review

The 2016-17 season has been a bit wild and unpredictable for U.S. pairs. There’s been some highlights and some exciting new talent; but also, a lot of injuries and problems. The roller-coaster season continued at U.S. Nationals in Kansas City, where we saw some surprises and unexpected results.

Run-up to Nationals

The first half of the season, in the run-up to Nationals, saw a lot happening in American pairs. And, to be honest, not much of it was good. Let’s take a quick look at how last year’s 2016 championship pairs fared this season in terms of partnership splits/illnesses/injuries.

Place

Name

2016-17 season (summer/fall)

1

Kayne/O’Shea

Tendinitis in knee (Kayne); will require surgery

2

Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

Stomach surgery (Scimeca Knierim)

3

Castelli/Tran

Concussion (Tran)

4

Aaron/Settlage

Split up partnership

5

Calalang/Sidhu

Back injury (Sidhu)

6

Smith/Reiss

No major injuries

7

Pfund/Santillan

Foot injury/surgery (Pfund)

8

De la Mora/Kurdyukov

Split (unconfirmed)

9

Shaughnessy/Morgan

No major injuries

10

Fujimoto/Barsi-Rhyne

No major injuries

11

Fields/Stevens

Concussions (Fields, Stevens)

12

Usmantseva/Silecky

Split (unconfirmed)

13

McDougal/Schatz

Split

So, out of 13 pairs at last year’s Nationals, only 9 are still together. Of those, only 3 were relatively healthy and did not suffer a significant injury/illlness. Injuries were a big problem for U.S. pairs last season; unfortunately, it only got worse this year.

With so many existing pairs injured, much of the focus was on new or returning pairs. To the joy of many, Denney/Frazier returned to competition after an entire season off due to Haven’s knee injury. Denney/Frazier skated well at their summer competitions and took silver at Skate America and 4th place at Skate Canada. However, their comeback stalled with a disappointing 4th at Golden Spin.

Meanwhile, new pair Ashley Cain/Tim Le Duc grabbed the spotlight. From the moment they debuted at Cranberry Open, Ashley/Tim immediately caught the eye of U.S. pairs fans with their difficult side-by-side jumps and beautiful, unique extensions. Ashley/Tim had a successful debut season on the Challenger Series circuit, taking 4th at Nebelhorn and Finlandia and bronze at Golden Spin (over Denney/Frazier). The buzz around them was high entering Nationals.

Another new team getting attention was Deanna Stellato-Dudek/Nate Bartholomay. Deanna/Nate had a late start to the season, but showed interesting potential at Eastern Sectionals and at Golden Spin, where they placed 6th.

That’s where the senior pairs field stood, heading into U.S. Nationals.

Nationals: Withdrawals, surprises in the short program

Four teams withdrew from Nationals in the days before the event: the Knierims, Calalang/Sidhu, Fields/Stevens, and new team Newby-Green/Estrella. This left 11 pairs in the competition.

The short program on Thursday, Jan. 19, was one of the most surprising in recent memory at Nationals. Cain/LeDuc seized the moment and unexpectedly took the lead. Even more surprising, Stellato/Bartholomay also skated very well for 3rd place. Denney/Frazier had to settle for 2nd, while Castelli/Tran were a close 4th. Meanwhile, reigning champions Kayne/O’Shea had a bad fall on their throw jump and were 5th.

Kayne/O’Shea then had to withdraw after they learned Tarah suffered a concussion during the fall. Shaughnessy/Morgan also withdrew due to stomach flu.

Only 9 pairs were left to skate the long program on Saturday, 1/21. Experience won out, and Denney/Frazier and Castelli/Tran took the gold and silver medals, topping new teams Cain/LeDuc (bronze) and Stellato/Bartholomay (4th). But more drama was yet to come, with the announcement of the U.S. team for Four Continents/Worlds.

Before we get into that, let’s take a look at how each individual team did at Nationals.

results

Denney/Frazier

It was heartwarming to see Denney/Frazier win Nationals after everything they’ve been through.

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Denney/Frazier win their first senior National title  (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Skating at Nationals for the first time in 2 years, Haven/Brandon looked a bit tense and nervous as they took the ice for their Don Juan short program. They opened with their triple twist and had a visible check on the catch (but still earned +1s/+2s). Then Haven put both hands down on the throw triple loop; the SBS 3S was also 2-footed/underrotated. The second half was stronger, with a great closing Axel lasso lift. Haven/Brandon’s level 4 step sequence is a standout element; it’s difficult and well-choreographed, with many steps in hold, and they maintained very nice speed and expression throughout. The judges’ GOE marks for the final step sequence and lift were deservedly high; but some of the other GOE scores were perhaps a tad generous. Haven/Brandon scored 65.39 for 2nd place.

In the long program, Denney/Frazier did just enough to take the title. Their level 3 triple twist was lovely and clean and got almost straight +2s; a great opening. The following jump elements were a bit weak; only the throw 3Lp was clean, with positive GOE. However, Denney/Frazier’s lifts and spins were strong and kept them in the game. Their reverse lasso lift in particular is such a highlight! Stunningly difficult, it got a great ovation from the crowd and a couple +3s. Their final hip press lift also got +2s across the board. I would have liked to see just a bit more emotional intensity from Haven/Brandon, but the program was beautiful and smoothly performed. The final score was 122.93, just enough for 1st LP/overall.

denney-frazier

Haven/Brandon’s stunning reverse lasso lift  (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

It was not a resounding victory for Denney/Frazier in Kansas City; but they showed enough quality and technical difficulty in their skating to take the title. I’m sure they’ll be focused on improving their performances later in the season; but what a wonderful moment for them to win their first senior title after losing an entire season to injury.

Castelli/Tran

Like Denney/Frazier, Castelli/Tran did not skate perfectly in Kansas City. But they performed strongly enough to win the silver medal.

Castelli/Tran started their dramatic “Fallin'” SP with a level 2 triple twist. Then came some jump problems; Marissa fell on the SBS 3S and two-footed the throw 3S. The second half of the program was much stronger; all their remaining elements were level 4 with positive GOE. I love Marissa/Mervin’s step sequence; it’s high-energy, with great edges. Their closing death spiral had good speed and positioning. Although this program has met with a mixed reception from fans, I personally love it. I thought Marissa/Mervin skated it with great speed and amplitude. Their PCS mark (30.79) was the highest in the short program, and they scored 64.29 for 4th.

castelli-tran

Castelli/Tran skate to silver  (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Marissa/Mervin’s Journey LP was not clean, but still strong enough to pull them up to silver-medal position. They again opened with the triple twist, and it was probably their best twist all year—explosive, clean, and great split position from Marissa. They got level 4 and all positive GOE for 7.70 points. As usual, the jumps were spotty: Mervin fell on the SBS 3T and put his hands down on the SBS 3S. Also the throw 3Lz was 2-footed. Where Marissa/Mervin really shone in this program was on the footwork and lifts. Earlier this season, C/T struggled a bit on lifts, but those issues seem to be smoothed out now. Their lifts in Kansas City were strong, with good coverage and transitions. Both lasso lifts scored above 9 points (excellent), with GOE marks of +2s/+3s. Their reverse lift was the highest-scoring element in the whole competition at 9.40 points. I loved the energy of this program; Marissa/Mervin kept the performance level really high despite the jump problems. As always, their footwork and speed were impressive. They again had the highest PCS in this segment (62.79). They scored 121.99 for 2nd LP/overall.

Castelli/Tran are an interesting team. Although they struggle with their jump elements, there is so much quality elsewhere in their skating that they continue to keep themselves in the mix, both nationally and internationally, despite some very uneven performances. Marissa/Mervin actually came very close to winning this competition; they were virtually tied with Denney/Frazier in total PCS/TES (just .04 behind D/F). It was Castelli/Tran’s 2 falls that kept them from gold.

Cain/LeDuc

Coming into Nationals, there was a lot of excitement around this new partnership. Even so, I don’t think anyone was prepared for Ashley/Tim’s performance in the short program. They won that portion of the event by over 5 points! Ashley/Tim were unable to maintain that lead in the LP, but hung on for bronze.

cain-leduc-sp

Cain/LeDuc steal the show in the short program  (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Cain/LeDuc looked so calm and at ease as they took the ice for their short program. I instantly felt it would be a good performance. And was it ever!! Ashley/Tim’s opening death spiral was lovely, with an inventive flipout. They got through the triple twist; it’s not a strong element for them yet, but they completed it (4.50 pts). Next came a beautiful set of SBS 3Lps—by far the hardest SBS jumps in the short program. They had almost straight +2s, for 6.40 points. The throw 3Lz had gorgeous timing with the music, although Ashley did break at the waist a bit on the landing. I loved their step sequence; it was fluid but powerful. Cain/LeDuc took command of the ice in this performance and created a wow moment; they really got into the rhythm and mood of the music. They’re such a tall team that they create a very powerful look on the ice, while having great artistry as well. In this program, Cain/LeDuc really had it all. They scored 69.33 for 1st place.

Unfortunately, Ashley/Tim couldn’t sustain that level in their long program to “The Prayer.” Inexperience and nerves seemed to take over, and they delivered a somewhat shaky performance. Their triple twist was a bit crashy and got negative GOE (4.50 pts). Ashley’s landing on the SBS 3Lp was not well controlled, and each jump in the SBS 2A/1Lp/3S combo was called underrotated/downgraded. Cain/LeDuc still earned 7.67 points on their SBS jumps, highest in the event, but the mistakes held down their GOE. Ashley fell on the throw 3Lz and landed forward on the throw 3S. The spin elements were a bit slow, and their lifts were fine, but not as fast or smooth as Denney/Frazier’s and Castelli/Tran’s. Their best element was the lovely choreographic sequence, which featured their trademark high extensions and earned several +3s. The program had some beautiful moments, but overall was a bit tentative. Ashley/Tim scored 115.08 points for 3rd LP/overall.

Ashley/Tim’s short program was one of the highlights of the entire championship and will surely be remembered for years to come. It’s a big accomplishment for this new team to win bronze in just their first year together!

Stellato-Dudek/Bartholomay

It was also a great first Nationals for Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nate Bartholomay. Against all odds, they placed a strong 3rd in the short program and held on for 4th place overall.

Deanna Stellato-Dudek’s story is amazing—and almost unbelievable. Deanna is 33 and last competed at Nationals way back in 2000! After a 15-year break from the sport, she teamed up with Nate Bartholomay this spring. Have we ever seen a top skater take such a long break and then return to competition? It’s almost unprecedented. And I admit I was very doubtful about this partnership. I just couldn’t imagine how a skater could be competitive after so much time away—and competitive in a new discipline, at that. However, Deanna/Nate quieted all doubters with their successful results at Nationals.

stellato-bartholomay

Deanna: Back at Nationals after 16 years!  (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Deanna/Nate’s “Hallelujah” SP was a stunning surprise that just came out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting this type of skate from them at all. The program was clean and lovely from start to finish. Deanna/Nate only did a double twist at their competitions earlier this year; so it was great to see them open their SP with a clean level 2 triple twist! They continued with very nice SBS 3Ts, and the throw 3Lp featured a smooth landing from Deanna. Spins were good, and their reverse lasso lift was well done, with beautiful air positions. Artistically, the program was really satisfying to watch. Deanna/Nate both seemed so happy to be out there competing, and the uplifting music matched their mood. Deanna is a star in this program! She has beautiful body lines, nice edges, and such lovely positioning of her arms and head. I couldn’t get enough of her! Deanna/Nate earned 65.04 for 3rd. They didn’t have a single negative GOE mark in the whole program—amazing for such a new team.

Unfortunately, Stellato-Dudek/Bartholomay struggled in their long program. I’ve noticed that new pairs often do fairly well in the short program but tend to get exposed more in the long program (which has almost twice as many elements). This was the case with both Cain/LeDuc and Stellato-Dudek/Bartholomay. Deanna/Nate’s “Firebird” LP opened with a crash on the triple twist. Problems followed on most of the jump elements. They got through the program, but I felt like Deanna looked a bit stunned–perhaps the return to Nationals pressure was overwhelming. This Firebird LP really has hardly any choreography, aside from the choreographic sequence element. It really doesn’t show off Deanna’s beautiful skating, as all their programs clearly should. Deanna/Nate scored 108.46 and fell to 5th LP/4th overall.

I look forward to seeing how this team develops next year!

Pfund/Santillan

Pfund/Santillan also had a good showing at Nationals, placing 5th after a strong long program. Last year’s Nationals was very disappointing for Jessica/Josh, so I was happy they did so well in Kansas City.

Pfund/Santillan started the event with a decent outing of their “Purple Rain” SP. Their standout element was the SBS 3S; the jumps were very close and well-synchronized, earning +1s/+2s (5.50 pts). Jessica stepped out of the throw 3Lp, and they only did a double twist. But the twist was level 4 with positive marks, so they actually scored fairly well with it (4.34 pts). Artistically, I’m not sure this program was the best choice for Jessica/Josh. I like that they’re going for something different with “Purple Rain.” But it’s pretty ambitious–even Olympic champions like Yuzuru Hanyu and Virtue/Moir have to work hard to pull off Prince. I don’t think Jessica/Josh have the skating skills yet to do it. You could see them losing speed in the step sequence and, overall, the program fell a bit flat. Jessica/Josh’s TES score (33.33) was competitive with the teams above them, but their PCS (24.72) was significantly lower. They placed 7th.

pfund-santillan

Pfund/Santillan:  Their best program of the season  (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Pfund/Santillan then came back with a strong performance of their Evita LP. The opening SBS 3Ts were slightly off sync, but landed. Both throw jumps were good. Jessica fell on the SBS 3S/2T combo, but that was the only jump error. Again, their twist was only a double, but a good one (4.39 pts). All three lifts were strong and scored well; their closing lift was a showstopper, with a long carry section and great ice coverage. Pfund/Santillan had major struggles with their lifts at last year’s Nationals, so it was nice to see them hit these elements in Kansas City. It was a fine program for Pfund/Santillan–definitely their best of the season. The lyrical, plaintive music works well for them and suits their soft look. Next year, I’d like to see a bit more expression from Jessica. She is lovely, but has a very quiet presence on the ice. I want to see her shine and sparkle more.

Pfund/Santillan scored 110.85 to move up to 4th LP/5th overall. I hope Jess & Josh can stay healthy and carry this momentum into next season.

Liu/Johnson

Liu/Johnson had a fine debut in their first year competing seniors at Nationals.

Liu/Johnson’s Michael Jackson short program had some pretty big elements, but also a few miscues. Chelsea popped the SBS 3S to a single, and the SBS spins were out of sync. On the plus side, they had the highest-scoring triple twist in the short program (level 3, 7.20 pts) and also the highest-scoring lift (9.00 pts). Not bad! They landed a decent throw 3S too. Chelsea/Brian have been competing in juniors internationally this year, and they’re a pretty strong team technically, but still need to work on improving their line, control, and presentation.They skate with good speed, but at times their movement looks a bit awkward and rushed, especially in the step sequence. Their Michael Jackson program is fine, but a bit trite. They scored 57.02 for 8th.

Liu/Johnson again hit some big elements in their Beauty and the Beast LP. The program started with issues on the SBS 2A/2T combo. However, they were not fazed and immediately hit a good level 3 triple twist (+2s, 7.50 pts). Chelsea fell on the SBS 3S. But again, they charged onward, completing several good spin elements and both throws. Their closing lift was very good, with a strong carry section. It wasn’t a clean program for Chelsea/Brian, but what impressed me was how well they kept it going. Despite some pretty big mistakes, they kept up the speed and energy throughout. They’re definitely fighters, which I like. The program itself is bit bland; I’d like to see some better material next year for Chelsea/Brian. They scored 102.94 to move up to 6th LP/overall.

Liu/Johnson are an interesting team with some good qualities. Chelsea is vivacious and a natural performer, and Brian is strong. Their jumps need improvement, but their twist and lifts are excellent for such a young team. A 6th-place finish in their first senior Nationals is pretty good!

Smith/Reiss

This was Smith/Reiss’s second Nationals together. They dropped one spot from last year, placing 7th.

Smith/Reiss put out a fairly clean, enjoyable short program to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Erika doubled the SBS 3S, but that was the only error. Their triple twist had good height, and the throw 3S was nice too. Erika/A.J. don’t have quite as strong skating skills as the top teams, but still earned all +1s/+2s for their step sequence. Erika showed nice animation; her big smile helped draw the crowd into the performance. The program wasn’t particularly exciting, but it was pleasant enough to watch. Smith/Reiss scored 59.30 for 6th.

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Smith/Reiss place 7th at their second Nationals  (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Smith/Reiss then lost a little ground in their Maleficent LP. Both fell hard on their opening SBS 3S. After that inauspicious start, they completed a clean triple twist, but it was only level 1. They had 3 good lifts; but something seemed off with Erika/A.J.’s throw jump technique. On both throws, A.J. threw Erika a bit to the side, causing the jumps to be 2-footed. Their Maleficent program didn’t do much for me. The intense, melancholy music dampens Erika’s natural effervescence, which is one of their strong points. Erika/A.J. need more accessible, upbeat music; they lacked spark in this routine.They could also use more speed and attack; their skating is a bit languid. Erika/A.J. scored 100.29 points and dropped to 7th LP/overall.

I feel like Smith/Reiss need to focus on developing more personality on the ice. I don’t get a sense of who they are as a team.

Fujimoto/Barsi-Rhyne

This pair trains in Florida with the Jim Peterson group. Competing in their third senior Nationals, they showed improvement this year and took 8th.

Fujimoto/Barsi-Rhyne are a mirror pairs team, which gives their spins and footwork a different look. I always enjoy watching them just to see that mirror effect. They do a great job syncing their SBS spins, although they rotate in different directions. Cali/Nicholas have upped their technical difficulty quite a bit. Two years ago, they were doing all double elements, except for the throw 3S. Now, they include a triple twist and throw 3F, in addition to the throw 3S. What still holds them back is SBS jumps and general lack of speed. Their skating is significantly slower than the top teams, both in their transitions and some of their elements. And their SBS jumps are doubles.

Still, it’s great that Cali/Nicholas continue to make progress. They have a nice rapport and present their programs well.

Weinberg/Fernandez

Weinberg/Fernandez won the junior U.S. pairs title last year. They had a challenging off-season, with a major injury to Joy and a coaching switch from Jim Peterson to John Zimmerman. As a result, Joy/Max weren’t able to put out strong performances in Kansas City and placed 9th.

Weinberg/Fernandez started the competition with a big fall on the triple twist in their short program, and it went downhill from there. All of their SBS jumps and throws in both programs were doubles, and most of their elements looked shaky and tentative. Joy needs to work on her stretch and extension; Max could improve his lift footwork. Perhaps they weren’t fully ready to compete at this event.

Kayne/O’Shea – WD

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Kayne/O’Shea:  Forced to withdraw  (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Kayne/O’Shea were defending National champions, so it was sad to see them withdraw after the short program. Tarah has been battling tendinits in her knee all season, and she and Danny just haven’t been able to perform with their usual consistency. But they’re such fighters that I think they were determined to skate here and defend their title. Their “Take Me to Church” SP started off well enough, with an okay triple twist and a good set of SBS 3S. But then Tarah fell badly on the throw 3Lz—an element they’ve been struggling with all season. It was one of those falls that just made the audience catch their breath. They placed 5th and planned to skate the LP, but had to withdraw after learning of Tarah’s concussion. I’m sorry to see Tarah/Danny’s season end this way, and wish her the best in her recovery.

Shaughnessy/Morgan – WD

Shaughnessy/Morgan skated a nice short program, but unfortunately had to withdraw due to Alex’s stomach flu. It was really too bad, because Alex/Jimmy are always crowd favorites at Nationals. Although they don’t have all the big technical tricks, they always bring so much emotion and joy to their performances. Their short program to “The Prophet” was skated with passion and good attention to detail. Technically, the highlights were their throw 3S (2-footed) and the SBS spins, which were fast and in sync and earned +2s.

So that’s what happened during the competition at Nationals. Now let’s talk about what happened afterward.

Aftermath: The team selection

Historically, the U.S. team for Worlds has always been based on the results of U.S. Nationals. If you made top 2 or 3 at Nationals, you were on the World team (depending on the number of spots). Of course, skaters with injuries/illnesses could try to petition onto the team. But petitions have been relatively rare over the last 30 years or so. Technically, USFSA always had the power to choose team members other than National medalists. But again, this rarely happened. In recent years, it became slightly more common–most notably in 2014, when Ashley Wagner was selected for the Olympics despite being 4th at Nationals; and when Denney/Coughlin and Max Aaron were selected for Worlds despite being 3rd (for two-slot teams).

This year, USFSA changed the World team selection process to a committee vote based on evaluation of athletes’ performance at certain events, including, but not limited to, U.S. Nationals.

USFSA announced the Worlds/Four Continents pairs teams the day after the pairs event ended.

Nationals results

Four Continents team

Worlds team

Denney/Frazier – Gold

Denney/Frazier

Denney/Frazier

Castelli/Tran — Silver

Knierims

Knierims

Cain/LeDuc — Bronze

Cain/LeDuc

1st Alternate – Cain/LeDuc

Knierims — WD

1st alternate — Castelli/Tran

2nd Alternate – Castelli/Tran

Clearly, the selection committee did not follow the Nationals results. Gold medalists Denney/Frazier were named to both teams. However, silver medalists Castelli/Tran were bypassed not once, but twice: First in favor of Alexa Scimeca-Knierim/Chris Knierim, who successfully petitioned on, and second, in favor of Cain/LeDuc, who finished behind them at Nationals.

The team selection indicated USFSA’s support for the Knierims and Cain/LeDuc. It was also a clear vote of no confidence in Castelli/Tran. The decision is quite unprecedented, as far as I’m aware. In recent memory, I can think of no other instance in which the federation showed such lack of support for the National silver medalists. Even in 2014 when silver medalists Zhang/Bartholomay were bumped from the World team in favor of Denney/Coughlin, Z/B were still 1st World alternates and went to the Olympics.

Of course, this year is different due to the new selection process. Was the selection committee’s decision justified? Let’s first judge by their own announced criteria.

The World Team Selection Criteria documentation states: “Athletes shall be selected based upon performance in the events below. The events have been stratified into tiers from the highest value events in Tier 1 through the lowest value events in Tier 3. Events within each tier shall be evaluated at equal weight.”

Note that this stated selection criteria does not include season’s-best scores, personal-best scores, world standing, current season world ranking, athletes’ citizenship, recent trend in performance, or evaluation of potential future performance.

Let’s look at how the candidates for this year’s team stacked up in terms of selection criteria.

Tier 1

2017 U.S. Championships

Denney/Frazier, 1st

Castellli/Tran, 2nd

Cain/LeDuc, 3rd

2016 Grand Prix Final

Knierims, 7th

2016 World Championships

Knierims, 9th

Tier 2

2016 Grand Prix Series

Denney/Frazier 2nd Skate America, 4th Skate Canada

Castelli/Tran 7th Skate America, 5th Trophee de France

2016 Four Continents Championships

Knierims, 2nd

Castelli/Tran, 6th

Tier 3

2016 Challenger Series/other internationals

Denney/Frazier

4th Ondrej Nepela, 4th Golden Spin

Castelli/Tran

3rd Autumn Classic

Cain/LeDuc

4th Nebelhorn, 4th Finlandia, 3rd Golden Spin

2016 U.S. Championships

Knierims, 2nd

Castelli/Tran, 3rd

2016 World Junior Championships

N/A

2016 Junior Grand Prix Final

N/A

The committee is supposed to look at this data, plus detailed results sheets from the tier events. This criteria data suggests that the Knierims had possibly the strongest case for the World team—despite skipping Nationals this year. The Knierims qualified for two events in Tier 1, one event in Tier 2, one in Tier 3. Their actual performances at the Tier 1 events were not stellar; however, they qualified and were the highest U.S. finishers. They were also silver medalists in their prestigious Tier 2 event, Four Continents, and silver medalists at their Tier 3 event, last year’s Nationals.

Denney/Frazier also had a strong claim. They are National champions in their Tier 1 event. They had two Tier 2 events where they placed well, and two Tier 3 events where they did okay.

Castelli/Tran also had accomplishments in all 3 tiers. They are National silver medalists in their Tier 1 event. They qualified for three Tier 2 events, the most of any team. Castelli/Tran also had two Tier 3 events, in which they had good finishes (2 bronze).

Cain/LeDuc had accomplishments in only 2 tiers. They are National bronze medalists in their Tier 1 event. They had no Tier 2 events. They had three Tier 3 events, in which they performed pretty well, especially at the last event (bronze), but not better than the other pairs.

Nothing in Castelli/Tran’s tier-event record suggests they did not deserve a place on the Four Continents team or as Worlds first alternate. They appear to have fulfilled the criteria for selection, with competitions in each tier and some good finishes as well. By not choosing them, the committee appears to have deviated from their own criteria.

The published guidelines do not include any criteria other than the competition tiers. But let’s look at some other relevant data, anyhow.

ISU Personal-best scores (international)

Team

SP

LP

Total

Knierims

71.37

140.35

207.96

Denney/Frazier

67.29

125.36

192.65

Castelli/Tran

67.50

116.92

176.18

Cain/LeDuc

56.60

116.58

172.18

The personal-best scores of Denney/Frazier, Castelli/Tran, and Cain/LeDuc are all from this season, so are season’s-best scores. Scimeca/Knierim do not have a season’s-best score from this season; their personal-best scores are from last season (2016 Four Continents).

ISU World standing

Team

Current world standing

Knierims

5

Denney/Frazier

16

Castelli/Tran

17

Cain/LeDuc

55

Note that the World standings include pairs who may not be together anymore, or may not be competing. Cain/LeDuc’s ranking would be somewhat higher if that were not the case.

ISU 2016-17 Season’s world ranking

Team

2016-17 Season’s world ranking

Knierims

N/A

Denney/Frazier

9

Castelli/Tran

19

Cain/LeDuc

30

From these tables, we can see that available ISU scoring data does support the inclusion of the Knierims, but does not support the exclusion of Castelli/Tran, from the Worlds/Four Continents team. Castelli/Tran are, as of now, the #3 U.S. pair in this group internationally, by each measure.

Let’s look at a few other factors that have been mentioned in fan discussion of the team selection: Athlete citizenship and potential future performance.

Many have speculated that citizenship was a factor in naming the Four Continents team, because this year’s Four Continents takes place at the 2018 Olympic figure skating venue. It’s entirely possible this was part of USFSA’s considerations; and this would not be unreasonable. But we need to remember: There is no guarantee that any pair at this year’s Four Continents will make next year’s Olympic team. And, in any case, there’s been no confirmation from USFSA sources of citizenship being an issue.

Some have also mentioned long-term potential as a possible factor in the team selection. The relevant question this raises is: Should World team selection be based on potential, or performance?

For me, the answer is that World team selection must be based on performance. Otherwise, selection becomes arbitrary and at the personal whim of selectors. Historically, U.S. World/Olympic team skating selection has been based on Nationals performance. Now, it’s supposedly based on performance at the tier events. In my opinion, this is as it should be: Actual performance, rather than potential performance, should be the defining factor in World/Four Continents team selection.

Future performance is unknown. No one can say for certain that any one pair will be more successful than another next season. The federation has to look for potential in our pairs, and encourage it, and this may be done through funding, training seminars, and competition opportunities at Challenger Series/senior B/other international/Grand Prix events. But Four Continents and Worlds are major ISU championships: the pinnacle of the season and the goal for all skaters. Such championships are not, in my view, the proper venue for development of uncertain potential.

However, the World team selection documentation does include this rather ambiguous paragraph referencing future potential:

The purpose of U.S. Figure Skating’s International Committee is to select the U.S. Figure Skating Team that wins the maximum number of international medals and berths possible by strategically providing experience to qualified members of the World Figure Skating Team, and by identifying and supporting the best qualified future prospects to develop and achieve the ultimate goal of Olympic and World podium results.

It’s my opinion that publicly available data and published selection criteria supported 1) the inclusion of the Knierims on the Worlds/4CCs teams and 2) the inclusion of Castelli/Tran as at least 1st World alternates, and very possibly on the Four Continents team as well. However, USFSA decided otherwise. They obviously have more information than is known to the public. Such information may support their decision on Castelli/Tran. In the absence of such information, I don’t find the decision justified.

I may not agree with all the committee’s team selections. But I support all the skaters named to the teams–and wish them the best at Four Continents/Worlds.

Looking ahead

With Nationals behind us, what is the outlook for U.S. pairs at Four Continents and Worlds? Truthfully, it’s looking like an uphill climb. At Four Continents, the U.S. pairs will face 6 strong teams from Canada and China. Worlds will be even harder and, although we can hope for more, the numbers suggest the U.S. pairs will likely finish between the 9th-16th positions at Worlds. The important thing is that the U.S. pairs’ placements total 28, thereby ensuring 2 spots for next year’s Olympics and Worlds.

It’s been a challenging year for U.S. pairs, and U.S. Nationals reflected that. But, now we move on. I hope all our pairs at Four Continents/Worlds have good performances! And I hope our pairs at home can regain their health and recharge for next year’s Olympic season!

Note: If you’re enjoying the articles on The Divine Sport, please take just a moment to “like” the site’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adivinesport/. You can also follow me on Twitter to get updates of new posts: @ClaireCloutier on https://twitter.com.

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One Response to 2017 U.S. Nationals: Pairs Review

  1. Pingback: Figure Skating Articles for Saturday, January 28, 2017 | BLAZING BLADES II

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