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

Leave a comment

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).

NATIONALS: Full Results | TV Schedule

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Ashley Wagner ‘furious’ over U.S. Champs scores

Emily Sisson a U.S. Olympic marathon trials favorite, thanks to Ireland

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Emily Sisson didn’t think she would become a professional runner until her last year of college. Now, at 28, she goes into the U.S. Olympic marathon trials as a contender for one of three Tokyo spots, if not the overall favorite.

“I’ve only done one marathon, so I definitely don’t feel like I’m an experienced marathoner,” Sisson said by phone last week from her Arizona base. “That’s the one question mark I’ve had all build-up.”

Predicting a marathon can be a crapshoot, but a Podiumrunner.com experts panel pegged Sisson to win. She is younger than any female U.S. Olympic marathoner since Anne Marie Lauck in 1996 (though fellow contender Jordan Hasay is a month younger).

Confidence stems from last April 28. Sisson clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in U.S. women’s history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow. She finished sixth — behind five East Africans. She crossed 3:25 ahead of sometimes training partner and mentor Molly Huddle, also a headliner at trials in Atlanta on Feb. 29 (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

“We wanted to run faster,” Sisson said that day in London. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

Sisson later mentioned a pre-race scare on the “Keeping Track” podcast. She tripped over a carpet jogging back from a bathroom, banged both knees 15 minutes before the start and got checked out physically by a chiropractor and mentally by her husband, who has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

Sisson then covered the final half of that marathon alone, a foreign feeling for the longtime track runner. At one point, she thought about having never before run more than 23 miles.

Her mind could have also wandered to sports memories that led her to the world’s strongest marathon: Attending a 1999 Women’s World Cup match and seeing her hero, Mia Hamm. As a soccer-playing teenager, being asked by a friend to join a track relay team. Or being told during a record-breaking high school career that she was reminiscent of 2004 Olympic marathoner Jen Rhines.

Sisson, whose dad ran and mom did gymnastics at the University of Wisconsin, transferred after one year in Madison to Providence. She had a best NCAA Championships finish of fourth going into her last year. Before that final season, Sisson was prepared to leave competitive running once her NCAA eligibility exhausted in pursuit of an MBA.

“I had been going through a bit of a funk with running,” she said. “I was getting a little tired.”

Things changed the summer before her senior year. She vacationed with then-boyfriend/now-husband Shane Quinn, a fellow Providence runner, in Quinn’s native Ireland. At one point, they altered training, ditching tempo runs for local road races. Sisson never before competed on the roads. She doesn’t remember the distances being exact. She does remember winning.

“That was a new, fun thing that kept the sport kind of fresh for me,” she said. “You finish, and you go into a local pub and have sandwiches.”

Providence coach Ray Treacy put Sisson in more road races that fall. The opportunity was right. She had no cross-country eligibility left while she readied for the winter and spring track seasons. She went on to win the 2015 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor 5000m, a springboard to the pros (while still going after the MBA).

Sisson was set back by injury in 2016 and placed 10th in the Olympic trials 10,000m. She kept training under Treacy, and perhaps just as important, with Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000m. Huddle, seven years older than Sisson, made her marathon debut after the Rio Olympics.

“Emily really looks up to her and is inspired by her,” Treacy said. “Molly has helped her out in numerous ways in training. … Making sure she’s not going overboard with the training, not running too fast. She kind of keeps her under control.”

Sisson made the last two world championships teams in the 10,000m, but Treacy thought marathon since 2015. They signed her up for the 2019 London Marathon, in part because Huddle was going to race it as her third career 26.2-miler. And in part to get Sisson ready for the Olympic trials in 10 months’ time.

The build-up was better than ideal. Sisson ran the second-fastest half marathon in U.S. history (on a record-eligible course) in January. She became the third-fastest U.S. woman all-time at 10,000m in March.

Come April, Treacy was impressed again just by watching Sisson after she crossed the London finish line in what would be the second-fastest marathon for a U.S. woman in 2019.

“It didn’t look like it took anything out of her,” Treacy said. “She recovered really fast. Within minutes, she was feeling pretty good. That was a good sign.”

Sisson returned home to Quinn and their golden retriever, Desmond, who has 1,400 Instagram followers. She skipped a fall marathon to compete in the 10,000m at track worlds in Doha, placing a respectable 10th.

The recent marathon build-up for trials went just as well, if not better, than the training for London.

“I’m definitely putting a bit of pressure on myself with this one,” Sisson said. “But at the same time, I don’t get caught up in so much what other people say. I don’t really read the articles about who’s the favorite or what chance you have of making the team.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic trials

Brigid Kosgei beaten as another world record smashed in Nike shoes

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ethiopian Ababel Yeshaneh broke the half marathon world record by 20 seconds, beating new marathon world-record holder Brigid Kosgei in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Nike-sponsored runners lowered the men’s and women’s marathon and half marathon records since September 2018, each appearing to race in versions of the apparel giant’s scrutinized Vaporfly shoes.

Yeshaneh, a 28-year-old who finished 14th in the 2016 Olympic 5000m, clocked 1:04:31 for 13.1 miles to better Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei‘s world record from 2017.

Kosgei, a 26-year-old Kenyan, also came in under the old world record but 18 seconds behind Yeshaneh.

Kosgei took 81 seconds off Paula Radcliffe‘s 16-year-old women’s marathon world record on Oct. 13, clocking 2:14:04 to win the Chicago Marathon.

Nike Vaporfly shoes, including the prototypes worn by Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge when he ran a sub-two-hour marathon, were deemed legal by World Athletics’ new shoe regulations last month, according to Nike.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Galen Rupp, after tumult, finds familiarity before Olympic trials