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Detroit — In a skate of considerable courage, Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc won the pairs national championship in U.S. Figure skating Saturday, at Little Caesars Arena that left Cain kneeling on the ice with great emotion.

Earlier in the day, Nathan Chen completed a couple of quad jumps during perhaps his best skate of the season, to seize a significant lead after the short program as he skates for his third-consecutive national title.

While Chen is a prohibitive favorite, the pairs free skate spurred considerable drama and emotions.

A month ago, Cain suffered a concussion after she fell to the ice during a hand-hip lift skating in Zagreb, Croatia.

With LeDuc holding her with one arm over his head as the couple twisted, as they began the descent, Cain fell to her head, her neck bent awkwardly.

It was among scariest incidents in the recent history of international figure skating.

“A month ago, we were in a hospital in Croatia, laying on a stretcher in same costume I wore tonight,” said Cain, after the pair won their first national title in the most athletic, most dangerous of the four figure skating disciplines.

“I wasn't allowed to move from when they took me from the ice. I told myself I need to remember this moment.

“Having that thought gave the courage to keep fighting.”

The difficult twisting, overhead element played a dastardly role, again, Saturday.

An aborted hand-hip lift by Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea cost the couple dearly in the scoring, after the pair finished the short program in first place.

Kayne, whose parents lived in Westland before moving to Florida, where she was born, and O’Shea, a native of Pontiac, approached the lift and simply stopped, continuing to glide along, hands held, almost beginning the lift and then breaking it off.

Kayne and O’Shea finished fourth.

Haven Denney an Brandon Frazier finished second, 10.72 points behind Cain and LeDuc’s score of 212.36.

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay finished third, at 199.92, 1.28 points ahead of Kayne and O’Shea.

The recent, chronic inconsistency of the United States pairs showed, again, throughout many of the programs. Few were clean.

More than a few were ragged.

Cain and LeDuc prevailed, despite some evident nerves that showed mostly in their considerable relief at the end of the successful program.

The did it with consistent execution throughout their program.

Cain and LeDuc, who took bronze in the 2017 nationals, credited their team and coaches.

“The whole month, it was just smart work,” said Cain, of Coppell, Texas.

“Our coaches told us it had to be one element at a time, we couldn't do it all at once. When I was off for two weeks because of the concussion, I envisioned that moment.

“I'm here because of my team,” she said. “They never gave up on me, even at the lowest of lows. I've been lucky — even with the concussion, I've stayed very healthy throughout my entire career.”

In earlier skating at the national championships, as expected, two-time defending champion Nathan Chen built a considerable lead in a nearly flawless, exuberant skate, and one of his best of the season.

Chen, dubbed “King of the Quads” completed two quadruple rotation jumps with ease and considerable pace, during a seemingly effortless performance of exacting precision.

If he wins a third consecutive championship, he will be the first skater from the U.S.to do so since Johnny Weir, from 2004-06.

As recently as 2017, Chen trained at the Arctic Edge in Canton, under the coach Marina Zueva. They worked on his choreography.

Among the favorites for the World Championship in March in Japan, Chen said that he will complete this academic year at Yale, continuing to train on campus part of the time while carrying a full class load. He hasn't decided yet whether he will take a break from skating to concentrate full-time on school.

“It has been an adjustment to get used to training by myself and putting school together with training,” he said. “But overall I’ve been enjoying it. It’s a great opportunity.”

Jason Brown, who also skated perhaps his best program of the seasons, sits second at 100.52.

“I'm very excited about the growth that I have made,” Brown said. "That said, I think we have a lot of work still to do, and I'm excited about working toward what we have to accomplish.”

Vincent Zhou is right behind Brown at 100.25, despite skating through a back injury for much of the Grand Prix season.

It limited his preparation for the nationals, and Zhou admitted it proved discouraging.

But, like Chen and Brown, Zhou gave perhaps his best performance of the season.

“I don’t think I’ve (been) better than that in competition,” Zhou said.  “That’s about as good as in practice and I’m really happy that I accomplished what I know I am capable of.”

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @greggkrupa

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