Olympic medalist Knierim, new partner lead US pairs

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Olympic team bronze medalist Alexa Knierim and her new partner, Brandon Frazier, led after the pairs short program that opened the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday night.

Knierim teamed with husband Chris for the 2018 Olympics, and they won their third national title last year. Chris has since retired, so his wife joined with Frazier, the 2017 U.S. pairs champion with Haven Denney. Knierim and Frazier won Skate America in October, and she won nationals with her husband in 2015, 2018, and 2020.

They scored 77.46 points for a solid lead over Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who were second at 71.3034. Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov were third at 69.56.

“After Skate America, Alexa and I went right back to work and tried working on things to improve our performance and technical from Skate America that we think we made better strides this time around," Frazier said. “Still room for improvement. But overall we’re happy we’re seeing progress each time we get out.”

Calalang thought she and Johnson had a stronger performance at Skate America.

“Our performance today really wasn’t our best, and at Skate America, I believe we skated a little bit better,” she said of the Grand Prix event also held at the Orleans Arena. “In between Skate America and the U.S. Championships, we focused on the overall package, the fine details, technically working on each element and just kind of honing in on the consistency.”

Perhaps the most consistent thing about this pandemic-impacted season is returning to the same site; nationals were moved from San Jose, California because of COVID-19 issues.

“There’s a sense of comfort in something that’s familiar,” Knierim said. "And I think we were able to prepare knowing how Skate America felt and what we needed to the same (level) or better. We are so grateful that we have the opportunity to have a nationals this year and we really couldn’t have asked for a better venue to host it. For Brandon and I as well as many other teams we are very, very happy to be back here again.”

Pairs conclude Saturday night with the free skate. Late Thursday was the women's short program. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, no fans were allowed.

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AP Sports Writers Barry Wilner and Bernie Wilson contributed.

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