Alexa, Chris Knierim win U.S. pairs title with one Olympic spot at stake

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Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim took all of the drama out of choosing the one U.S. Olympic pairs team.

The married couple won their second national title Saturday, capping four years as leaders of the nation’s weakest figure skating discipline.

The Knierims tallied 206.60 points, beating 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea by 5.8 points despite major errors in side-by-side jumps.

“After the music ended, I was a little bummed that I didn’t have that feeling after when you know you’ve nailed the program, and you just feel so alive inside,” Alexa said. “I knew of the mistakes that we left on the table. …  I was concerned whether we would win or not in that moment.”

Deanna Stellato, a 2000 World junior silver medalist in singles, and 2014 Olympian Nathan Bartholomay were third.

Both U.S. pairs from Sochi split up weeks after placing ninth and 12th at those Games.

A U.S. Figure Skating committee will choose the one PyeongChang pair team, the smallest U.S. contingent in the event since the first Winter Games in 1924. The announcement is Sunday at 12:45 p.m. ET.

It will surely by the Knierims, the top-scoring U.S. pair each of the last four seasons.

Still, U.S. pairs are nowhere near the world’s elite and will extend an Olympic medal drought to 30 years barring a miracle in PyeongChang.

The U.S. Championships conclude with the men’s free skate (Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the free dance (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC).

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The Knierims would be the first married U.S. pair to make an Olympics since Jenni Meno and Todd Sand at the 1998 Nagano Games.

They teamed in 2012 and took silver at the 2013 U.S. Championships. But Chris broke a fibula before the 2013-14 Olympic season, and they ended up fourth at nationals. Sochi alternates.

The following season, the Knierims became the first U.S. pair to break 190 points internationally. They’ve now eclipsed that mark four straight seasons.

Their best year was 2015. The Knierims won their only national title and became the first U.S. pair to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in eight seasons.

Then came 2016. Alexa first felt sick that April.

For several months that spring and summer, she had episodes of vomiting, typically lasting 10 to 12 hours, every few days, suffering from a rare condition she referred to as “a series of binding internal issues.”

It took at least 10 doctors and many emergency-room visits before she was correctly diagnosed. Her weight dropped below 90 pounds.

She underwent three abdominal surgeries, resulting in a several-inch scar running north-south on her belly.

In the same stretch, the couple planned their wedding and were married on June 26, 2016.

The Knierims returned to competition in February 2017. They have competed in five international competitions in the last year and posted the five highest scores of all U.S. pairs in any competitions in that time.

It’s good enough to rank No. 16 in the world. Their average scores are more than 30 points behind the Olympic medal contenders from China, Germany, Russia and Canada.

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IOC: ‘More exciting initiatives’ for Korean unity in PyeongChang

AP
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Olympic organizers on Friday welcomed an agreement between North and South Korea to unite athletes at the PyeongChang Winter Games and promised that “much more exciting initiatives” promoting Korean unity will emerge this weekend.

“Watch this space,” International Olympic Committee presidential spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press in an interview, a day before a crucial meeting of Korean delegations at Olympics headquarters in Lausanne.

He declined to elaborate, saying the decisions would come Saturday.

Referring to a detailed peace-making agreement between the rival countries announced Thursday by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, including a joint team in the women’s hockey tournament, Adams said it was “great … but these are discussions” — meaning the IOC had not yet given the deal the final green light.

“I can tell you that there will also be some much more exciting initiatives coming through as well tomorrow,” he added.

Provided that the IOC finalizes the deal, it would mark the first time the two National Olympic Committees would be competing together in a single team.

Some have questioned the fine print of the agreement announced by the two Koreas, saying it gives the combined hockey squad a far larger roster than any other national team.

Asked how the IOC planned to maintain the integrity of the sport, Adams said: “People would say that these are exceptional circumstances, and we need exceptional measures.”

“This is about the Olympic spirit,” Adams added. “And the Olympic spirit is about nations competing, athletes competing, and we will do our best make sure that it sends a signal that sport can improve the world.”

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Julia Mancuso skis final race dressed as Wonder Woman (video)

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Julia Mancuso bid farewell like only she could — with a tiara, cape and Wonder Woman suit.

The most decorated female U.S. Olympic skier with four medals announced Friday morning that today’s World Cup downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo would be the last race of her career.

More on Mancuso’s retirement, career and immediate future here.

She raced Friday as her nickname — “Super Jules” — and coasted to the bottom 18 seconds slower than winner Sofia Goggia.

Afterward, U.S. Ski Team members sprayed her with champagne and lifted her up in the finish corral.

Mancuso chose an appropriate venue for her last race.

She notched her first World Cup podium in Cortina in January 2006, then won the Olympic giant slalom in Sestriere, Italy, four weeks later.

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