Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier were at Great Park Ice on Thursday morning, performing one of the final program run-throughs before their gold medal defense at the World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan later this month (March 20-26).
U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier was there. So was the organization’s high-performance director Mitch Moyer.
The pairs team delivered.
“It was beautiful,” said Christine Fowler-Binder, a coach at the Irvine facility.
It was also emotional.
More than 1,500 miles away, Todd Sand, who with his wife Jenni Meno-Sand had coached Knierim and Frazier to the world title, was in an ICU unit in a Calgary, Alberta hospital a week after suffering a major heart attack.
Sand, 59, is in “critical but stable condition, but it’s still serious” Fowler-Binder said. “He’s still fighting.”
He is doing so with Meno-Sand, as she has been for the past four decades, by his side and with his sport reaching out in support.
“Jenni is a warrior,” Fowler-Binder said. “She’s one of the strongest people I know.”
A fundraising site set up by Fowler-Binder has raised more than $118,000 to offset Sand’s medical costs. Nearly a thousand people have contributed to the fund.
Sand and Meno, coached by Hall of Fame coach John Nicks, skated to a silver medal at the 1998 World Championships and also collected World bronze medals in 1995 and 1996. Sand also captured a World bronze with Natasha Kuchiki.
After retiring, Sand and Meno-Sand established themselves as one of the nation’s top coaching teams. Nina Mozer, who coached both the gold and silver medalist pairs teams at the 2014 Olympic Games, is overseeing Knierim and Frazier’s training in Sand and Meno-Sand’s absence. Mozer has been working as a consultant for the pairs team and has been in Orange County on a previously scheduled consulting trip.
Sand was in Calgary to coach Sophia Baram and Daniel Tioumentsev at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships. The pairs team led the competition after the short program. The following morning, March 2, Sand suffered a heart attack. Hours later, Baram and Tioumentsev captured the world title to become the first U.S. team to medal in the pairs competition since 2013.
“We skated tonight for Todd and everyone that helped us this year,” Tioumentsev told reporters afterward. “We tried to think of what he told us.”