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Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim named sole U.S. pair for 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

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Married couple and pairs team Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim were selected as the pair to represent the United States at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, U.S. Figure Skating announced on Sunday. The U.S. only had a single pairs quota spot at the Games, its fewest spots since the first Winter Olympics in 1924 in Chamonix, France.

The Knierims are the first married U.S. pair to make an Olympics in 20 years, since Jenni Meno and Todd Sand at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Scimeca Knierim and Knierim won the national title in 2015 and 2018, but the years in between weren’t an easy ride. Starting in April 2016, Scimeca Knierim began suffering from a debilitating stomach illness. She was even throwing up the night before her wedding to Knierim in June 2016. They missed most of the season, returning to competitive ice at the 2017 Four Continents Championships. Incidentally, that event took place inside the same venue that will host 2018 Olympic figure skating.

“This proves that everything I went through was so worth it,” Scimeca Knierim said in a press conference. “I’ll never forget how hard we had to work to get back to the place that we are now.”

The pair has been the U.S.’ strongest, partly due to their high-flying signature element, the quad twist. They are the first U.S. pair to execute the element in competition, doing so en route to their first national title in 2015. They brought it back for 2018 nationals, when Scimeca Knierim’s stomach had healed enough to start training the element in earnest.

At the past three world championships, the Knierims have been the top placing U.S. team:

  • 2017: 10th
  • 2016: 9th
  • 2015: 7th

As the only pair team for the U.S. in South Korea, the Knierims will be responsible for the team event competition short program and free skate on top of the pairs event short program and free skate in the span of about a week. Scimeca Knierim said because they train at altitude in Colorado Springs, Colorado, their bodies would hold up. Plus, she said, she has a spirit that would compete forever; at their first Olympics, they’re seeing this extra responsibility as an honor.

The Knierims join the singles skaters named to the team earlier: Nathan Chen, Adam Rippon, and Vincent Zhou for the men, plus Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu, and Karen Chen (no relation to Nathan).

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the 2016 U.S. champions and this year’s silver medalists, were named as the alternate team. Kayne suffered a concussion in the 2017 nationals short program and had to withdraw, then recovered from an unrelated knee surgery for much of this season. Kayne and O’Shea only returned to competition in December.

MORE: Adam Rippon makes Olympic figure skating team, completing journey

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MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for PyeongChang Olympics

Lindsey Vonn wins 79th World Cup race as oldest downhill victor (video)

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Lindsey Vonn became the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill with three weeks until the Olympics, notching her 79th career victory in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, on Saturday.

In PyeongChang, she can become the oldest female Alpine medalist in Olympic history.

Vonn prevailed by .92 of a second over Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather on Saturday, moving seven shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s record of 86 World Cup victories.

“My focus right now is just so much on Olympics that I haven’t really thought about [the record] that much this season,” Vonn said. “After the Olympics, that will be my No. 1 priority again, and I’ll try to just rack up as many wins before I retire as possible.”

American Jackie Wiles was third to become the fifth U.S. female Alpine skier to qualify for PyeongChang, joining Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin, among others. (full U.S. Olympic roster here)

Shiffrin was seventh in Saturday’s race in her least comfortable discipline.

Full results are here.

Vonn, 33, broke Austrian Elisabeth Goergl‘s record as the oldest woman to win a World Cup downhill. Goergl is still the oldest winner for any World Cup race, taking a super-G in 2014 at nearly 34 years old.

Vonn, already an Olympic medal favorite in downhill and super-G, won her first downhill since Jan. 21, 2017.

She had raced eight downhills in between with four podium finishes, including taking second to Italian Sofia Goggia on Friday in Cortina. Goggia failed to finish Saturday.

The World Cup continues with a super-G in Cortina on Sunday (5:30 a.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app).

“Mentally, I feel like it’s the first podium I ever got,” Vonn said. “Back in 2004, I feel the same. I have the same motivation, the same drive, the same excitement. I love going fast. That’s never changed. The only thing that’s changed is my body is not as good as it once was, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t still win.

“I’ll keep going until my poor little knee gives out.”

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VIDEO: Shaun White scores perfect 100 to qualify for Olympics

IOC approves unified Korea Olympic team, 22 North Korean athletes

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North and South Korean athletes will compete on the same team at the Olympics for the first time, while the IOC approved 22 North Koreans to compete overall in PyeongChang.

The IOC on Saturday approved the Koreas’ agreement to field a unified women’s hockey team and to march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the Korean Unification flag.

Twelve North Koreans have been added to the South Korean women’s hockey team. The other North Korean athletes will compete in figure skating, Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and short track speed skating.

Full details are here.

“Today marks a milestone on a long journey,” IOC president Thomas Bach said. “Since 2014, the IOC has addressed the special situation of having the Olympic Winter Games 2018 on the Korean Peninsula. Until today, we met separately with the parties on a bilateral basis to address an often fast-changing political situation in a comprehensive way. Today is therefore a great day because the Olympic Spirit has brought all sides together. This was not an easy journey.”

At the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9, one North Korean and one South Korean will carry the flag in the Parade of Nations. The Koreas previously marched together at the Opening Ceremonies in 2000, 2004 and 2006.

The hockey team will compete as “Korea,” under the unification flag and using the song “Arirang” as its anthem. North Koreans will compete under their own flag in all other sports.

North Korea did not qualify any spots for the Olympics, but the IOC had power to offer special invitations.

“Such an agreement would have seemed impossible only a few weeks ago,” Bach said. “The Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 are hopefully opening the door to a brighter future on the Korean peninsula.”

The 22 North Korean athletes mark more North Koreans at a Winter Olympics than the last six Winter Games combined.

North Korea had zero athletes in 2014 and two in 2010.

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MORE: South Korea Olympic hockey rosters have North American flavor