Pairs figure skating events open Wednesday, Feb. 14, at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, and for former U.S. pairs champions Danny O'Shea of Gurnee and Tarah Kayne of Bradenton, Florida, it is a bittersweet moment.
They are the first alternates in the event after placing second at the U.S. Nationals in January to Alexa Scimeca Knierim of Addison and her husband, Chris Knierim, who were named to the U.S. Olympic team.
Still, O'Shea, who graduated from St. Viator High School in 2009, says he and his partner are upbeat.
"Yes, we're still skating and doing our best to be at a high level," O'Shea said during an email exchange last week.
Currently, they are training at an off-site facility located two hours from Pyeongchang, should Scimeca or Knierim become injured or sick. But short of that, they have their sights set on another important competition coming up next month -- the World Figure Skating Championships in Milan, Italy.
And why not? Just last month, O'Shea and Kayne became the first U.S. pair in 12 years to win the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, which took place in Taipei City in China. It was the first international title for the pair and they scored a personal best in the free skate event to do it.
Their title came after a difficult year of injuries for Kayne, who fell coming out of a throw during their short program at last year's nationals. She suffered a concussion and they had to withdraw from the competition, leaving them unable to defend their 2016 national title.
To make matters worse, Kayne underwent a complicated knee surgery three months later and it meant she had to be off the ice for the next five months.
"But she is a fighter," O'Shea says. "By the time we got all of our elements back, it was about seven weeks before nationals. We skated pretty well and got second, but unfortunately, this was the first time in a long time that the U.S. only had one pairs spot (on the Olympic team)."
Rather than dwell on their misfortune, the pair continued to train, O'Shea says, and now they have an international title to boost their confidence.
"It's hard not being an Olympian under the circumstances, when we are feeling so close to it," O'Shea adds, "but we chose to capitalize on the opportunities that we have, and be proud of the accomplishments we've already made."
Certainly, O'Shea's former training facility, Twin Rinks in Buffalo Grove -- where Bradie Tennell trains -- and his alma mater, St. Viator High School, took pride in their latest title.
At Twin Rinks, O'Shea's photo with his medals hangs on in a row with others from the rink who have gone on to place at the national level, while at St. Viator many of the faculty members remember O'Shea's strong work ethic.
"I had him in class," said the Rev. Dan Hall, vice president of St. Viator. "I just remember hearing how he'd get to the rink at 5 a.m. before class and then leave school early to go back to the rink and train. I guess that's the kind of determination it takes to succeed at that level."