Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim struck gold on Saturday at the 2018 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California. It’s the second national title for the pairs skaters, who are a couple on and off the ice. They also won in 2015.
Scimeca Knierim erupted in tears in the Kiss and Cry as their scores – a total of 206.60 points – were announced.
“We’re just so happy to be back,” Chris said on the NBC broadcast. “[Winning] very important. It gives us confidence moving on to hopefully our next event this season. It’s really important to be on top at the U.S. Championships and hopefully be honored enough to go to the Olympics and Worlds again.”
“God is good,” was the only thing Scimeca Knierim could manage.
Scimeca Knierim and Knierim and Knierim skated nearly clean, but their Achilles’ heel, side by side jumps, caused most of their problems. They received downgraded marks on their triple Salchows and only managed a double toe, single toe combination. However, the team is most known for their high flying twists, and they delivered in San Jose, getting positive Grades of Execution for their quad twist.
Joining the couple on the nationals podium were Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, with their score of 200.80 good enough for a silver medal. While Kayne and O’Shea were the 2016 national champions but couldn’t defend their title the following year. Kayne suffered a concussion in the short program at nationals in 2017, leading to their withdrawal before the free skate. She also had knee surgery, and the team didn’t return to competition until last month.
Kayne and O’Shea were dinged for under rotations on their jump sequence, and she fell on the throw triple flip.
Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay rounded out the podium with bronze with a score of 197.65 points. She was a singles skater who retired at 17 after a successful career as a singles skater, cut short by injuries. Her resume include da 1999 Junior Grand Prix Final victory and the world junior championships silver medal in 2000. Bartholomay competed at the 2014 Olympics in the pairs event with former partner Felicia Zhang; they finished 12th. At last year’s nationals, Stellato and Bartholomay finished fourth. They only joined forces as a pairs team in 2016.
They also were called for an under rotation on their side by side jumps: their triple toe, double toe combination.
Ashley Cain and Timothy Leduc finished fourth with 187.14 points while 2017 national champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier finished fifth with a score of 186.32.
Scimeca Knierim was throwing up on her wedding day to skating partner Knierim, due to a mystery illness that later required three stomach surgeries. That was June 2016. They couldn’t compete the rest of the year and returned to the ice at the 2017 Four Continents Championships in February. Incidentally, that venue will host 2018 Olympic figure skating next month.
Just because a team wins nationals doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to PyeongChang next month, but in the case of the Knierims, it’s a pretty good bet.
The championships are not an official Olympic Trials event, but do count towards what U.S. Figure Skating Association calls a “body of work.” The Olympic selection committee will take into account the results of nationals, the fall 2017 Grand Prix Final and the series overall, plus additional competitions from the prior season. Based on all of this, the 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Team will be chosen to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea in February. The Knierims did better among this criteria than any of the other eligible pair teams, plus they have the most internationally competitive programs thanks to their quad twist.
The announcement of the U.S. pair team selected to compete in PyeongChang is expected on Sunday at 12:45 p.m. ET.