SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A long time coming getting back to the top of the podium, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier held up their shiny medals, smiled and waved once more to an audience left captivated by their sensational skating.
It sure beat watching like last January when Frazier contracted COVID-19 and they had to withdraw from the event in Nashville, Tennessee. Frazier watched the event quarantined in his hotel room, while a disappointed Knierim closed herself off and stuck close to family.
The dynamic twosome have another national pairs gold at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with a spectacular free skate Saturday night that scored them an overall season-best 227.97.
"It means the world for me and I think I can speak for Alexa, too, especially after missing last year to return, and to return to the top of the podium, it's a great achievement," Frazier said. "But more importantly for us, we've been reflecting a lot throughout the season, our personal journeys and our partnership. So coming here, just so many emotions in the U.S. championships every time you come and this was a week filled with emotions, and that was all heart tonight."
The reigning world champions were forced to pull out the night before last year's competition when Frazier tested positive, denying them a chance to defend their 2021 title from their first season together.
Skating second-to-last and ahead of eventual silver medalists Emily Chan and Spencer Howe, Knierim and Frazier performed a breathtaking routine to Harry Styles' "Sign of the Times" for a 146.01 to win by more than 30 points. They recovered from a slight miscue in their planned triple toeloop-double toeloop-double toeloop combination by going clean the rest of the way and executing all the difficult elements with flair and determination.
When they were done, fans jumped to their feet in a rousing ovation.
The tandem, who train in Southern California and paired up after Knierim's husband Chris retired from skating in 2020, had to petition for a spot on the Olympic team for Beijing after missing the 2022 nationals. There, they helped the Americans to a silver medal in the team event and placed sixth in pairs. The twosome also earned silver in the Grand Prix final last month.
Knierim and Frazier held a commanding lead of more than 15 points over Chan and Howe - 81.96 to 66.86 - after a personal-best short program Thursday heading into Saturday's free skate.
It's the fifth pairs gold for Knierim, who won three with her husband.
"I think I'm just so wrapped up in doing what I love that the numbers of championship gold medals for me here will never amount to how much I just love skating," she said. "I could have no medals and I would probably feel the same way about it."
Chan and Howe continued their breakout season with a season-best score of 196.86 and their 130.00 free skate, set to a rendition of "Unchained Melody." They lost points when Chan fell on their throw triple loop.
Ellie Kam and Danny O'Shea placed third with a 184.01. They came into Saturday sitting third after scoring a 65.75 short program, then Kam fell on their opening triple twist in the free skate and nearly slid into the boards. The two teamed up just four months ago and have high hopes of an Olympic run.
Sonia Baram and Daniel Tioumentsev were fourth at 179.08, scoring a 115.96 in the free skate to move up from fifth place after the short program with a beautiful routine Saturday at SAP Center.
Earlier Saturday, Madison Chock and Evan Bates defended their ice dancing title Saturday at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, scoring 137.85 in the free dance for a top total score of 229.75.
The recently engaged couple has medaled at nationals in every season since 2013. That's 11 straight years, which matches former training mates Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (2012-22) for the most consecutive years on the U.S. ice dance podium.
"It's a great honor to be one of the teams with the longest longevity in the sport," Chock said. "It's something that we really pride ourselves on because we're very motivated people. That's something that drives us through our career, and we've had a lot of success because of that."