Favorites to win pairs competition are out of US Figure Skating Championships due to COVID

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It didn’t take long for COVID-19 to disrupt this week’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Reigning national champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew from the pairs competition Wednesday night after Frazier tested positive for COVID-19, according to a statement from U.S. Figure Skating.

The duo had been scheduled to skate their short program Thursday afternoon, in what is the last competition for U.S. skaters before the team for the 2022 Winter Olympics is named. Knierim and Frazier were considered the favorites in pairs.

Frazier, 29, said in an Instagram video that he started developing “severe symptoms” late Tuesday night and later tested positive. He said he has been isolating since.

“Of course safety is the top priority for everyone at the event, so we had to withdraw,” he said. “Although my symptoms are pretty bad, nothing sucks more than not being able to compete.”

Knierim, meanwhile, noted in her own Instagram post that Frazier tested positive “despite being vaccinated, boosted and having obtained a negative PCR test upon arrival.” She wrote that the pair had taken a variety of precautions leading up to the event, including canceling holiday gatherings.

“It has been shocking and devastating for us to process what has happened,” she wrote. “We have done everything in our power to prepare for this event and were ready to compete and defend our national title.”

NASHVILLE SCENE: Figure skating hotel full of maskless people

HOW TO WATCH: US national championships live stream, TV schedule

News of Frazier’s positive test came less than 24 hours before senior competition was scheduled to begin at Bridgestone Arena, with fans in attendance despite a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the Nashville area due to the omicron variant.

According to data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of COVID-19 cases in Davidson County – where the city is located – has increased 129% over the past seven days.

Alexa Knierim And Brandon Frazier (USA) compete in the pairs free skate during Skate America.

The setting of nationals – and the extremely-contagious nature of omicron – raised questions about whether the event would or should be held behind closed doors. Other national governing bodies, including U.S. Speedskating and Skate Canada, decided to take that step in recent weeks with their own events, citing COVID-19 prevention efforts.

Instead, U.S. Figure Skating announced that it would continue to allow fans but require them to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival at the arena.

In a pre-event news conference late last month, a reporter asked Knierim and Frazier if they believed they would feel safe at nationals, amid the spread of COVID-19. 

“Brandon and I have always felt very protected and safe under the advisement of U.S. Figure Skating,” Knierim said. “I think that the plan that they have in place will be enough to keep us safe. We’re going to follow protocols extremely tightly, and we will avoid contact … and keep to ourselves. Maintain our own bubble, that we can create the best way possible. I think everyone will be OK and safe as long as everyone is smart.”

Based in Irvine, California, Knierim and Frazier started competing together in March 2020 after spending several years with other partners; Knierim, for instance, won three U.S. titles with her husband, Chris, between 2015 and 2020.

Since teaming up, Knierim and Frazier have finished seventh at the most recent world championships and third at a Grand Prix event in France earlier this season, in addition to their win at the 2021 U.S. championships. 

It is immediately unclear how Wednesday’s withdrawal will affect Knierim and Frazier’s Olympic hopes.

Unlike in other sports, where Olympic spots are awarded at trials, figure skating selects its Team USA athletes based on their performances over a period of two years. The U.S. has three Olympic qualifying spots in the men’s, women’s and ice dance events, but only two spots in pairs. The teams will be finalized by the conclusion of nationals Sunday.

The Beijing Games begin Feb. 4.

“We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished as a team in our two seasons together,” Knierim wrote on Instagram. “Brandon and I have accumulated an extremely strong body of work that positions us at the top of the field nationally and we are not letting go of our Olympic dream.

“That said, we have the utmost respect for the selection committee and believe that they will make decisions based on the best interest of our team and our country.”

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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