ST. PAUL, Minn. - Let's get one thing clear: Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea won their first U.S. pairs title with a free skate impressive in its own right.
But coming after the falls, stepouts, out-of-sync spins and slow-as-molasses skating that preceded them, what Kayne and O’Shea did seemed nothing short of spectacular.
After all, just seeing a good U.S. pairs team skate clean for 4 ½ minutes is a rare treat. Of the top seven finishers, Kayne and O'Shea were the only ones who did not fall. And the falls were far from the only big mistakes the other teams made before a crowd of respectable size at the XCel Energy Center Saturday afternoon.
That they also skated clean it in the short program added up to their rout of defending champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim by 14.85 points, largest winning margin at nationals since 2010.
Kayne and O’Shea’s score, 211.65, is the highest ever at the U.S. Championships. It also is 26.34 points above their best total in three previous appearances at nationals, where they had gone from seventh to sixth to third.
"It felt great,” O’Shea said. “Tarah was almost in tears. It's a great feeling – something special.”
Winning the title means they are headed to a World Championship debut this March in Boston.
They are the seventh different pair to win the national title in the past eight years, a statistic illustrating the lack of solidarity and long-term commitment that has helped condemn U.S. couples to mediocrity for nearly 20 years. No U.S. pair has finished higher than sixth at worlds since 2006.
This is their fourth season together, and the third had been nearly a washout after Kayne, 22, of Bradenton, Fla., needed surgery in July 2014 to fix a labral tear in her right hip. It forced them to miss the entire Grand Prix season.
“In a sense, it is hard to imagine (winning) after the surgery,” Kayne said. “But we have been working so hard. Anyone who knows us personally probably could see this coming.”
Kayne quickly rethought that statement.
“Maybe not,” she said, smiling.
O’Shea, 24, of Chicago, certainly was impressed by the effort his partner had been putting in.
“I don’t think anyone understands the intensity of rehab,” O’Shea said. “Anyone can do normal training.”