U.S. pairs are, alas, still U.S. pairs

 Chris Knierim sends partner Alexa Scimeca airborne at the Grand Prix final, where the couple had three falls in the free skate. (ISU photo)

Chris Knierim sends partner Alexa Scimeca airborne at the Grand Prix final, where the couple had three falls in the free skate. (ISU photo)

ST. PAUL,  Minn. -- It was a good thing only a few hundred (fool?)hardy souls were in the XCel Energy Center for Thursday afternoon’s pairs short program at the U.S. Championships.

That meant there was limited live exposure to some of the worst pairs skating ever at nationals.

And that is saying something, given the nadir the discipline has reached in the United States since three-time world medalists Jenni Meno and Todd Sand retired after 1998.

At least the fans got some reward for sticking it out through two hours of bad music, missed elements and general lethargy.

The last to skate in the mercifully small field (13 entries), Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, did a thoroughly respectable performance with a brand-new program and deservedly wound up first.

Kayne and O’Shea, third at last year’s championships, should have a much bigger lead going into Saturday’s free skate than their margin over reigning U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim.

Scimeca and Knierim defined desultory, making a hash of their triple twist, slogging along to music by Metallica and finishing behind the music, perhaps because he needed time to recover from a fall on the side-by-side triple jumps.

“We’re disappointed in our program today,” Scimeca said.

That Scimeca and Knierim had qualified for last month’s Grand Prix Final in Barcelona – the first U.S. team to make the final since 2007 – seemed a step forward for U.S. pairs.

That a horrible, three-fall free skate left them dead last of the seven finalists seemed to undo that progress.  After all, Scimeca and Knierim already had been seventh in last year’s worlds, just one place worse than the best U.S. finish at worlds since 2006.

“No,” Scimeca responded firmly to the question of whether the Grand Prix Final was a step backward.

“Our career is a long process, and you can take good things from any competition,” Scimeca insisted.  “The mistakes we made at the Final were a blessing because (we came) back and worked on our quad twist and other things.”

Hopefully, some of that has been on staying upright.