SAN JOSE, Calif. – Married pairs skaters Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim didn’t let a near disaster in the short program faze them at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
But Chris may need some new pants.
Skating to “Come What May” from Moulin Rouge, what came was a surprise. On the entry into their throw triple flip in which Chris picks up Alexa, swings her between his legs and sets her down, they got a little tangled up.
Or as Chris joked, “She tried to trip me!”
Alexa’s heel hit him right above his left ankle and cut a hole in his pants.
They recovered and performed the throw perfectly on the way to 71.10 points and first place in the short program Thursday.
Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the 2016 national champions, are in second with 68.93 points followed by 34-year-old Deanna Stellato-Dudek, who returned to skating in the 2016-17 season after a 16-year retirement, and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay (67.84). Defending national champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier are in fourth (63.63).
“We’ve had that experience before, where right before (a throw) something happens and you have to be so trained, so focused that it didn’t matter,” Alexa said. “And that was us today. Luckily we had enough speed, enough confidence just to get it done.”
Alexa said Chris might have to change his pants that are too “flow-y” compared to the fabric he has in another pair.
“Whatever my wife wants,” said Chris.
The Knierims, who were married on July 26, 2016, were grateful to be at nationals after withdrawing from the 2017 competition. They won the event in 2015. Alexa was still coming back from life-threatening gastrointestinal problems requiring three abdominal surgeries. However, they were placed on the world team and finished 10th.
This season, Chris struggled with a patella injury. They finished fifth at both Skate America and NHK Trophy.
“We’re just very happy that everything is finally coming together because it’s been a long two years,” Chris said.
The United States qualified only one pair for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. With a committee determining the representative, winning nationals does not guarantee the Olympic spot, but the Knierims have been the top U.S. finishers in every international competition they have entered the past three years.
“I think in the past,” Alexa said, “when we were more inexperienced and younger and talking, before our surgeries and everything, I think that being a top team is a little daunting because you feel like you have to prove yourself. But Chris and I proved ourselves to ourselves by making our comeback last year.”
They are the only U.S. pair with a quad twist lift, which they will perform in the free skate. They haven’t done the lift in competition in a year and a half.
“We want to highlight our strengths,” Alexa said. “Whether the point advantage is significant or not, that twist is ours and it’s really good and it’s something we’re known for, so I want to capitalize on that.
“I think it’s an advantage to us to have something unique and keep pushing ourselves to do it and then continue to improve on the weaker elements.”
She said she was surprised at how easily they picked it up again. “It’s meant to be,” she said.