For U.S. pairs teams, longevity is key

LONDON, Ontario -- American pairs skaters are surely tired of being asked when U.S. pairs are going to pull out of their long tailspin on the international scene -- a slide at least partly attributable to the musical-chairs transiency among teams in recent years.

Friday, after making a notably strong statement for a new tandem at the world championships, Alexa Scimeca had an equally strong answer about the staying power she expects of herself and partner Chris Knierim.

"We're in it forever," said Scimeca. "You can quote me on that."

Scimeca and Knierim, together for less than a year, earned a personal best score of 117.78 points for their free skate, set to music from the soundtrack of "Life is Beautiful." Their total score of 173.51 placed them ninth, and that finish, combined with a 13th place from Boston-based Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, guaranteed the United States two entries in the discipline at next year's Olympic Games. (Combined placement of 28 or better was required.)

Scimeca two-footed her landing on an early throw triple-flip jump, but the pair received high marks for their opening triple-twist lift and other elements, including the dramatic death spiral.

"We got everything we went for," Knierim said. "We felt really good out there -- calm, relaxed, another day at the office."

Scimeca and Knierim are both skilled skaters who are well-matched physically on the ice and exude chemistry that appears to be nourished by their romantic relationship outside the rink. He gently kissed her forehead before releasing her from their program-ending clutch, and she made sure she'd wiped the last trace of lipstick from his cheek before they faced reporters and cameras in the bowels of the Budweiser Gardens arena.

Knierim said they haven't had any problems making sure what happens at home stays at home, and Scimeca added that their open channel of communication complements their training. "We can say to each other, 'I'm not feeling good today, don't take it personally.'"

Their coach Dalilah Sappenfield also works with U.S. pair Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, who are in their second season together and opted out of worlds as Coughlin continues to recover from hip surgery.

"Teams want quick success without [putting in] the time behind it," said Sappenfield, whose training group works in Colorado Springs. "It takes a good team three or four years to jell, and my teams are finally understanding that concept."

Castelli and Shnapir, skating first out of 16 pairs Friday, weren't crazy about their free skate score of 108.32, well under their season's best of 117.04. But they, too, said they're committed to the long haul after nearly breaking up a year ago. Their coach Bobby Martin told icenetwork.com earlier this month it was only the latest of "at least nine times, and maybe more, that one or the other was standing on a cliff, ready to jump."

Shnapir said longevity is going to be the key to any eventual U.S. renaissance in pairs -- "Decades [together], not single digits."

Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman's bronze medal in 2002 was the last podium appearance for a U.S. team at the world championships. Jenni Meno and Todd Sand won a world silver and two bronze medals in the mid-to-late '90s, and Americans have been shut out of Olympic medals in the discipline since 1988, when Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard finished third.