Knierims rescue US on opening day of Olympic team event
By BARRY WILNER, AP Sports Writer
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Last week, Chris Knierim was in a hospital emergency room getting stitches above his left eye after a training mishap. On Friday, he and wife Alexa Scimeca-Knierim were plenty healthy, rescuing the American squad in the team event at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
About 90 minutes after two-time U.S. men’s champion Nathan Chen struggled mightily in his portion of the competition, the Americans’ only pairs duo finished a solid fourth. The Knierims and Chen each contributed seven points to the American total — Chen’s a disappointing amount considering he is the men’s favorite for the games, and the Knierims’ total a nice surprise.
As expected, Canada was in front with 17 points, but the United States was in strong position after the short programs. Thank the Knierims.
“Nathan had a bit of an unfortunate skate, and we were asked whether we felt any more pressure because of it,” Scimeca-Knierim said. “But this is our first Olympics and Nathan’s, too … our team is really good at taking advantage of the opportunity whenever it comes.
“I was a little whacked out about how calm and light we were. We were so steady even though you can’t help but looking at the Olympic rings.”
Pairs is the weak link of American figure skating these days; there are the maximum three Olympic entrants in the other three disciplines. The Knierims don’t figure to challenge for a medal in their event next week.
So boosting their nation’s chances for a team medal is of the highest priority. And when Chen had problems, which the Knierims watched as they rode a bus to the rink, they recognized the burden placed on them.
Then they produced with what U.S. ice dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue described as “their best short program ever.”
“Very exciting,” Chris Knierim said. “We’ve done team competitions in the past, but we’re at the Olympics and to do that performance is really special. I think we thrive in the team atmosphere.”
Thriving in some environments has been a problem for the Knierims, who were married in 2016. An assortment of injuries have plagued them, and her rare and debilitating, life-threatening condition that required multiple abdominal surgeries nearly ended their careers.
On the verge of their trip to South Korea, her hip bone — “my only part of my body that could fall on him” — landed directly on his left eye during a lift. Chris laughed it off until Alexa was “startled and shocked to see blood.”
They headed for a Colorado Springs hospital, betting each other how many stitches he would require. She said eight, he wanted 10 and got seven.
“It just shows how things can get taken away in a heartbeat,” Chris said. “So we’re extra thrilled to be at the Olympics.”
Their countrymates were thrilled with the Knierims’ performance, in which the only bobble came when she slipped following their final lift. The U.S. champs hit their side-by-side triple flips and did a massive throw triple flip. As she landed, Alexa pumped her fists vigorously.
They wound up ahead of Chinese and French teams that easily could have taken points away from the Americans’ chase for a spot on the team podium; the U.S. came in third at the Sochi Games in the initial team competition.
Now, they’re eager for the team free skate on Monday, and then for the full pairs event next week. It’s a lot of programs in a short period of time, to which both of them shrugged.
“We’ll do 10 programs if they ask us to,” he said. “It’s the Olympics.”
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org