World champs Knierim, Frazier dazzle in Day 1 at nationals

San Jose, Calif. (AP) — He held onto his on-ice embrace a little longer this time, kneeling in the closing moments after a flawless short program.

Overwhelming favorite and defending world champion Alexa Nyrim and Brandon Frazier scored a personal-best 81.96 on Thursday to lead the first day of the US Figure Skating Championships.

With Nyrim battling her nerves, though you’d never know it, the pair took the ice in glittering silver costumes for their much-anticipated nationals, returning after missing the event a year ago when Frazier tested positive for COVID-19. On Thursday, she delivered an awe-inspiring routine to Journey’s “Separate Paths (Worlds Apart)” from Stranger Things.

“I want the music to take a moment when it ends to absorb that moment because I’ve learned throughout this long career that the most special times often go by so quickly,” Nyrim said. “And I want to move forward and fully immerse myself and embrace the present moment, and I’m able to do this.”

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The tandem’s score was three points higher than their previous best and less than three points shy of the world-record 84.41 set by Sui Wenjing and Han Kong at last year’s Beijing Olympics.

Knierim and Frazier led second-place pair Emily Chan and Spencer Howe by more than 15 points after the short program with the free skate competition on Saturday at the SAP Center.

“Once we’re done, and you put on a great show that you and your partner both shared, you gave it everything you had, you want to take every second because they go by so fast,” Frazier said. “But those seconds are exactly what get you out of bed and keep coming back.”

He and Nyrim didn’t get a chance to defend their titles at the national tournament in Nashville, Tennessee last January, after Frazier tested positive, forcing them to withdraw the night before the competition began. He then had to apply for a spot on the Olympic team for Beijing.

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There, the pair helped the Americans capture a silver medal in the team event and finished sixth as a pair. The duo had won silver in the Grand Prix Final held last month.

Chan and Howe are expected to be the next top duo in San Jose after partners Nyrim and Frazier after Nyrim’s husband Chris retires from skating in 2020.

When Chan landed on her side-by-side triple toolloops, the level of difficulty in the technical content of her routine earned her and Howe a high score from the judges for 66.86 — just short of her international personal-best mark on the skate. Canada 2022.

Ellie Kamm and Danny O’Shea were third with 65.75 after the short program in their first season competing together – teaming up just four months ago.

Chan was thrilled to see Nyrim and Frazier skate so beautifully on the big US stage so long ago.

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“We were both very happy to see her skate well. It’s very inspiring, because we understand how much pressure it must be to be the defending world champions,” Chan said. “She’s a great inspiration for me and has a lot of support for the Grand Prix Final.”

In fourth place in 63.45, Valentina Plazas and Maximiliano Fernandez performed an elegant skate to “Maria” from West Side Story. They were the 2021 junior bronze medalists and placed sixth at the nationals last year as a pair on their senior debut.

When he performs his free skate on Saturday, Nairim will once again remind himself to embrace the moment and be present.

“Being able to skate today was a gift, but it’s very true and close to our hearts,” he said. “I don’t want to rush through it.”


AP freelance writer Sonja Chen contributed to this report.


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