Skaters with Michigan roots at top of pairs field after short program

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Audrey Liu and Misha Mitrofanov compete in the senior pairs short program. O'Shea was born in Pontiac.

Detroit — Danny O’Shea and Tarah Kayne brought some Michigan roots with them to the pairs short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Thursday, and they say it helped them perform.

It did not help a lot with their nerves before the skate.

But O’Shea and Kayne emerged in first place in tight competition in the inconsistent United States pairs field, with the long final programs scheduled for Saturday.

“We’re just very happy with our performance, today,” said O’Shea, who was born in Pontiac, and whose father worked at the GM plant and his mother for UPS.

“Tarah and I were talking earlier about how we both wanted to throw up before we skated. We were pretty nervous going into today.

“It’s something that means a lot to both of us, and we were very happy that it went as well as it did.”

More: Liu, 13, lays down marker at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Kayne and O’Shea scored 71.83, Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc were just behind at 70.47.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier sit third, at 68.32.

The favorites, the husband-and-wife team of Alexa and Christopher Knierim, are seventh, at 59.44.

The entire field reflected the perpetuated problem with pairs for the Americans. Most of the performances were inconsistent with judges reducing technical point awards for various elements of the program.

At least 10 of the 13 pairs had some difficulty with their triple twist lifts, a difficult element that requires a throw from the man and three revolutions in air, over his head, by the woman.

It is but one of the great challenges of pairs skating, that the the most athletically-demanding of the four figure skating disciplines.

The Knierims failed to complete the triple twist, as well as their second element, a triple salchow, from which Alexa Knierim faltered on the landing.

Regardless, 10 points behind the leaders, the Kneirims remain within striking distance of the national championship, to be awarded Saturday.

Meanwhile, Kayne and O’Shea successfully managed their nerves.

They were left to laugh about them, after their skate.

“I get really nervous before every time I compete. I usually cry every time before I compete,” Kayne said, laughing at the thought.

Her parents spent considerable time in Westland before moving to Florida. Her father was born in Michigan and her mother in Scotland, but she attended John Glenn High School.

Kayne was born in Fort Myers.

“That’s my pre-competition ritual,” she said of her tears. “I can’t not do it. I haven’t figured out a way not to. I hysterically cry.

“It’s just part of the process.”

They skated so well in the short program, it might be advisable for Kayne to cry a whole lot more on Saturday morning.

“We were really happy to do well,” O’Shea said. “It’s a little bit of a homecoming.”

Two other skates with local ties are participating in the pairs competition.

Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson briefly held the lead briefly before landing in sixth. Johnson, who grew up in Farmington Hills and attended Detroit Country Day, is affiliated with the Detroit Skating Club.

“There was a couple of moments during the program when when I picked some people out in the audience,” Johnson said of a throng of family and friends in attendance. “I got to make them smile. That was a really nice thing for me.”

Calalang and Johnson are only in the eighth month of their partnership.

Allison Timlen and Justin Highgate-Brutman finished 11th in the field of 13.

Highgate-Brutman is from Detroit, attended the Arts Academy in the Woods in Fraser, and is affiliated with the St. Clair Shores Figure Skating Club.

 “I like freedom of figure skating, the delight of it,” he said. “I like the feeling that I can express myself.

“And, I like skating with my partner.”