Americans Head Into Pairs Figure Skating Final After Finishing Sixth and Seventh in Short Program

The pairs figure skating free skate event will take place on Saturday as the Olympics comes to a close

Alexa Scimeca-Knierim; Brandon Frazier Ashley Cain Gribble; Timothy Leduc
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier (left); Ashley Cain Gribble and Timothy Leduc. Photo: MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images; FAZRY ISMAIL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Both American teams have qualified for the pairs figure skating final at the Winter Olympics.

On Friday, American duo Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier ended the pairs short program in sixth place following a performance to "House of the Rising Sun" by Heavy Young Heathens. Knierim and Frazier, who entered the competition ranked seventh, received a score of 74.23 points — a 40.64 technical score and 33.59 component score.

"We competed exactly how we've been skating and what we set out to do," Frazier said following his performance. "I'm just so proud and still enjoying the Olympic experience. But above all, just so proud of what Alexa and I are doing and how we're holding ourselves. Some things were a little tight but most of all we went out there and attacked that program and gave it everything we've got."

Meanwhile, American pair skaters Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who entered the competition ranked eighth, gave a stunning performance and earned a score of 74.13 points — 39.91 technical score and 34.22 component score — landing in seventh place behind their fellow American skaters.

Said LeDuc after, "We were so joyous. Just from the moment that we took the ice."

Finishing in first was China's Cong Han and Wenjing Sui, who lead the qualifiers with a score of 84.41. In second and third are two of Russia's teams: Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, then Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov.

The last time Team USA had two pairs teams at the Olympic Games was 2014 when they placed in 9th and 12th. Following Friday's short program, the top 16 pairs will skate in the long program, or the free skate, on Saturday.

Alexa Knierim; Brandon Frazier
Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier. ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

Prior to the Beijing Games, Cain-Gribble and LeDuc both reflected on making the Olympic team during an interview with PEOPLE.

"Ashley and I have worked so, so hard to try to make this Olympic team and we just, we really wanted to do right by all the work that we put in," LeDuc said. "Our job this season was to make the Olympic team. And even more so, to skate like the athletes that we know that we can be and to perform the way that we know that we can perform. And we felt like we did that in our programs at nationals, but we're also really excited because we have room to grow and to do even better at Olympics."

"It had been since 2015 since we had won that [national] title. And we just felt like we were the best versions of ourselves this year to be able to step back onto that top of the podium," Cain-Gribble added. "Those were two big goals of ours. And when they finally all came to fruition, just being able to look at our team and say we all made this happen was pretty surreal."

Ashley Cain-Gribble; Timothy Leduc
Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc. ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

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LeDuc, who is a barrier-breaker as the first openly gay and nonbinary Winter Olympian, also opened up to PEOPLE about what they hope viewers will take away from their historic Olympic run.

"I've seen some of the headlines saying that I'm going to be the first openly nonbinary athlete competing in the Winter Olympics, which is really exciting, but when people see my story and see Ashley is in my story, I don't want it solely to be about us and my accomplishments or my reaching this level of sport," LeDuc explained.

They continued, "I'm hoping that people see the story, and instead the narrative turns to more broadly the progress that queer people are making. And hopefully, the message that this sends to young queer people, that I hope they feel like they can lead with authenticity and that they can enter their spaces, their sports, their school, any spaces that they enter, and be authentically themselves. And not have to feel like they have to change themselves or adjust themselves in order to be successful or to be taken seriously."

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, now, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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