SAN JOSE, Calif. – The lone pairs team that will represent Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 have a bond off the ice even more powerful then their connection on skates.
Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim are the first married couple since Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in 1998 to compete for Team USA in pairs at an Olympic Games. Another husband and wife, Ron and Nancy Luddington, are the last to win a U.S. medal in pairs, earning bronze in 1960.
The Knierims’ coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, even officiated at their wedding.
“It’s as simple as another blessing in our journey,” said Alexa, 26, who will now have an Olympic ring to go along with her wedding ring. “It is our lifelong dream to make the Olympic team.”
She teamed up with Chris, 30, in April 2012 and they qualified for their first world championships in their first season together, placing ninth.
However, Chris broke his leg in the 2014 Olympic season. They were not at full strength at the 2014 national championships and placed fourth.
A year later, they won their first U.S. title, and in late 2015, became the first U.S. pair to compete at the Grand Prix Final in eight years.
They were married on July 26, 2016, but that summer was also one of uncertainty because of Alexa’s bouts of sickness.
She was diagnosed a life-threatening gastrointestinal illness, which caused her to lose 20 pounds and required three surgeries.
“As that summer continued and as my body was at it weakest, my faith was at its strongest,” Alexa said. “A time passed as I approached the autumn season, I started to have more faith in myself and my journey, although physically I didn’t think I’d be in the position I am today, my faith really propelled me forward.”
“Everything Alexa went through,” Chris said, “it just validates how hard she worked to get back to skating, to get back to being healthy.”
Alexa added, “I’ll never forget how hard we had to work to get back to where we are now.”
They missed the 2017 nationals, but were placed on the world championships team, where they were 10th.
They were also sixth at the 2017 Four Continents Championships. This season, the Knierims were fifth at NHK Trophy and Skate America as Chris was hampered by a patella injury.
“We’ve had a few setbacks throughout the season,” Chris said, “but now it feels like everything is coming together when it needs to.”
Chris, who is 6-foot-2, and Alexa, who is 5-2, are one of only three couples in the world currently performing a quad twist lift.
Although they struggled on their side-by-side jumps at nationals, their throws, lifts and spins helped them score 206.60 points and defeat Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the 2016 national champs, who had 200.80 points. The Knierims are the first U.S. pairs team to win their second title three years after the first.
Chris is such a considerate husband that when he saw the text from U.S. Figure Skating saying that they had made the Olympic team, he waited to open it with his wife. Alexa was talking to somebody at the time, and when she finished, they got both of their families together and opened the text message on Alexa’s phone.
“She read it out loud,” Chris said, “and we all freaked out.”
Alexa, who is from Addison, Illinois, and Chris, who is from San Diego, live and train in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Alexa said that making the Olympic team allows them to check a goal off their list, “but at the same time, remaining skating itself is the biggest gift of all. Whether we’re at the Olympic Games or a public skate session, that’s where our love and heart for the sport is.”