Of the original 12 entries to the pairs' event this week at Nationals, ten remain after Denney/Coughlin and Yankowskas/Reagan withdrew. As I wrote in the preview, the withdrawal of the defending champs really open the door. Who's stepping through? Here are my top six predictions.
GOLD Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir - Something happened this season between Skate America and Ice Challenge. The international judges really took notice at Ice Challenge, rewarding the former World junior bronze medalists with some big scores and finally giving them credit for their spectacular elements. They won that competition and then scored their first Grand Prix medal not too long after at NHK Trophy. With international cred in hand, they have really become the de facto favorites this week in Omaha. Can they handle this unexpected spotlight?
SILVER Alexa Scimeca/Christopher Knierim - Talk about a fantastic debut. Scimeca/Knierim came out of nowhere and won their first international competition as a pair at Coupe de Nice. They went on to finish right behind Castelli/Shnapir to NHK. Scimeca was tenth last year with Ivan Dimitrov, Knierim was seventh with Andrea Poapst. And you can be very sure that they will eclipse both of those placements significantly this week.
BRONZE Gretchen Donlan/Andrew Speroff - The defending pewter medalists are, for me, the most elegant pair of the bunch. But their season has been filled with mistakes - . If they skate cleanly, they have the potential to challenge for gold. But have they shaken off that inconsistency?
PEWTER Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier - Could last year's junior champions play the role of the spoilers this week in their senior Nationals debut? Denney (yes, younger sister of Caydee Denney) sat out much of the season to recover from an injury, with their only competition being JGP Lake Placid early in the season, where they were fourth. So they are definitely the X factor here this week.
5. Tarah Kayne/Daniel O'Shea - One of the new pairs this season, Kayne/O'Shea are certainly flying under the radar, as their only competitions have been domestic. But they showed a lot of promise at Indy Challenge over the summer and at Easterns - solid pairs elements plus solid singles skating. Dark horse city.
6. Tiffany Vise/Don Baldwin - Not a great season overall for Vise/Baldwin, who finished near the bottom of the pack in their Grand Prix events after a solid start at U.S. Classic with the bronze. They have scrapped their original short program, which might give them the jumpstart they need for a strong showing here. But the inconsistency they've had this season isn't going to help.
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The pairs begin their battle this Thursday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. Eastern with the short program. Examiner Figure Skating will be bringing comprehensive live coverage of the pairs' free skate on Saturday.