As the United States Figure Skating Championships convened in St. Paul, Minn., last January, Timothy LeDuc was busy earning a living on a cruise ship. Ashley Cain was occupied with her singles skating career.
As it turns out, a lot has changed in a year’s time.
After only a brief seven-month partnership, LeDuc and Cain sit in first place in the U.S. Figure Skating Championship pairs competition following Thursday’s short program at the Sprint Center.
They will carry that lead into the final free skate competition Saturday.
“Because we are a new team, we have to triage all the things and can’t go too far too fast, so we are very happy with the short program today,” LeDuc said. “It is another step forward for us.”
The pairs short program launched a four-day series of senior events in the first U.S. Figure Skating Championships to converge on Kansas City since 1985. USFSA president Sam Auxier spoke of the host site before the day’s top events.
“One of the reasons we came back to Kansas City was that we thought we could attract a pretty large audience to our sport,” he said.
The crowd was sparse for the pairs competition Thursday. But fans began to replenish the seats along the lower bowl of the Sprint Center for the ladies short program, which was scheduled to conclude around 11 p.m.
The initial audience saw Cain and LeDuc jump out to the lead in the pairs with a total score of 69.33, nearly four points clear of second place. Again, that’s despite their relatively new relationship, which was suggested by USFSA.
“We definitely know what we are capable of, and we are hoping to show that again in the long program Saturday,” Cain said. “But we do know that this is only half way through the competition. So we are trying to stay calm and pace ourselves and just stick to what we came here to do.”
The duo’s 2016 national final absence was something of a theme for those who joined Cain and LeDuc on the leaderboard Thursday. Neither the second-place team (Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier) or the third-place team (Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay) took part in the competition in 2016 either.
“To put things in perspective, I think a year ago, Brandon and I were at the (Olympic Training Center) in Colorado rehabbing,” Denney said. “It’s been a long, hard-working process to get to the point where we are today. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but from where we were to where we are now, I think we’re really proud.”
Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea are the defending national champions, but Kayne fell during their program, and the duo dropped to fifth place heading into the long program Saturday.