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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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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