Maia and Alex Shibutani compete in their short dance in the figure skating team event at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 11, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Through the first two days of the figure skating team event, Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t paid much attention to the leaderboard. Their minds haven’t raced through what-if scenarios of whether other countries could pull ahead of Team USA, which is standing in third.
On Friday, Alexa and Chris watched Nathan Chen’s performance while on the bus heading to the rink for their own performance. On Sunday morning, they caught glimpses of the women’s short program as the pair warmed up.
During the team event – new to the Olympics in 2014 – the U.S. figure skaters balance supporting each other with focusing on how to perform to their own potential for their teammates. So far, that approach is working. Every U.S. performance in the team event has landed in the top five, highlighted by Maia and Alex Shibutani’s second-place finish in the short dance on Sunday.
“It's an honor to be in the team event representing our country and add to the total that we have so far, setting up the rest of the team for a great day going into the final day of this competition,” Alex said.
Team USA won a bronze medal in the inaugural team event in Sochi. And is now poised to repeat that feat when the team event ends Monday.
Bradie Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, placed fifth Sunday in her Olympic debut. Tennell earned a score of 68.94, just one hundredth of a point behind the fourth-place finisher, Satoko Miyahara of Japan. When Tennell finished, she said she saw the Olympic rings inside the arena and thought, “Wow, I just did that on Olympic ice.”
“I don't think I could have asked for a better first program at the Olympics,” Tennell said.
Thanks to the team event, her individual performance later in the Games won’t be Tennell’s first time competing in Gangneung Ice Arena. Chen and the Knierims also made their Olympic debut during the team event.
The Shibutani siblings are the only returning Olympians to represent the U.S. in the team event so far. While the Shibutanis skated in Sochi, they did not take part in the team event.
“There's nothing like Olympic ice,” said Maia, who has won three world championship medals with Alex. “To have the opportunity to feel that energy before the individual event, I just feel that we'll be even more prepared.”
On Sunday in the pairs free skate, Chris fell on a triple toe loop, and the duo performed a triple twist instead of a quadruple twist. The quad, Alexa said, doesn’t add much to their score, but it creates “a whole lot more stress.” Plus, Chris said, a quad twist caught poorly is worth less than a solid triple twist.
They said the decision was made with their coaches prior to their performance, but they plan to do the quad twist in the free skate of the individual event. Knowing that they had another free skate on the agenda in PyeongChang took away the pressure of doing the quad in the team event, Chris said. They finished fourth in both the pairs short program and the free skate.
“[The team event is] another opportunity to have that moment that we've worked so hard for,” Alex said, “so we take advantage of it.”
Emily Giambalvo is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.