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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