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Three questions with Alexa Scimeca Knierm, Chris Knierim before U.S. Championships

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Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim have had a rocky season, to say the least. The married couple split from the coach that paired them up at the end of last season and packed up to move to Oberstdorf, Germany to train under pairs’ gold medalist Aliona Savchenko. The Knierims split with Savchenko later in the fall and moved to California and now train with coaches Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.

Amid all this, they competed and won a silver medal at Nebelhorn Trophy, placed fourth at Skate America and won a bronze at NHK Trophy in Japan. Most recently, they captured another silver at Golden Spin in December.

Or as Knierim put it, “traveling all around God’s green earth, it seems like this season.”

The 2015 and 2018 national champions spoke to reporters ahead of the U.S. championships in Detroit next weekend, adding that they’ve been training well every day leading to Nationals. They’re happy with their current situation, Knierim said.

Here’s what we learned.

1. They still believe their time in Oberstdorf was valuable, despite how it ended.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim: “There’s certain things that we learned [in Germany] that we’re going to continue to incorporate on a daily basis. It’s quite simple. It just didn’t work out. Chris and I knew when we decided to part ways that there would be no regrets leaving there because we took everything we could. We just felt like if we had stayed, there would’ve been more of a downward slope in some terms of things than others. We kind of felt like we needed to save ourselves in the moment which is why we made the switch [to Jenni and Todd] so quickly.”

2. Their new coaches, who competed as a married couple in pairs’ skating themselves, offer a fresh perspective for the Knierims.

Chris Knierim: “One thing that we really liked about Jenni and Todd is that they’ve been through everything we’re going through and have been through together. They were married. They were skating and competing while they were married. It’s a really good balance between the two of them because they get everything that’s happening.”

ASK: “Jenni and I are very similar and Todd and Chris are very similar. On the training day to day when they are both present at practice, it’s very helpful for us. After an element, if we need to dissect or break something down, or if there’s maybe some tension or emotions building, I can take my two cents and talk to Jenni and Chris can take a lap with Todd. They give us insight or opinions on what to do. In the past we’ve only had one person standing at the boards and seems a little bit more refreshing and a little bit more productive.”

3. Their pets and belongings are with Scimeca Knierim’s parents in Chicago. Eventually, they couple will get their own place in California, they hope.

All of the couple’s belongings are packed in bins in Alexa’s parents garage, as well as the cars and Chris’ beloved Camaro. Her parents already had a big dog plus five cats, and the pair left their two “giant” dogs and two more cats in Chicago.

CK: “Going into us they told us, don’t worry about it. We’re gonna watch them. Just do what you need to do in Germany or wherever you’re going. We’ll take care of it.”

ASK: “My parents are animal lovers, so it’s not a big deal to them. My parents have already said they don’t want to give them back. But we’ll be taking them back!”

CK: “Since we left Dalilah [Sappenfield], we haven’t had our own place. It’s been almost a year now that we haven’t had our own place being a married couple. It’s been a crazy season for us on and off the ice. But we knew going into this season that this was a building year for us to make a good chance and get everything lined out for the next three years leading into the Olympic Games. It’s been a hard road and it’s been up and down. We’ve traveled to Germany and been all over the country, but we’re just happy that now everything is settling down. Hopefully within the next month or two we’ll be able to get our own place in California and be with our pets. Everything will just be normal. We’re happy to get to that point, to be honest.”

MORE: Three questions with Madison Hubbell, Zachary Donohue before U.S. Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before. 

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Coco Gauff upsets 9th seed to start French Open

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Coco Gauff notched yet another impressive Grand Slam match win, taking out ninth seed Jo Konta in her French Open main draw debut on Sunday.

Gauff, a 16-year-old American, upset the Brit Konta, a 2019 French Open semifinalist, 6-3, 6-3 on the first day of play at Roland Garros despite 12 double faults. Konta had 41 unforced errors to 22 winners.

“Every match is a great win,” said Gauff, the youngest player in either singles draw. “I don’t really take anything for granted because I’m just happy to be playing. I don’t think maybe winning Slams, matches at Slams is something I’m used to. Especially, this is my first main draw Roland Garros. When I’m on the court. I can act like I’m used to it. When I’m off the court, I’m just happy to be here.”

The clay-court Slam was postponed from May due to the coronavirus pandemic, is being held with damp temperatures in the 50s and has limited spectators to 1,000 per day.

“I’m pretty sure this is my first ever pro tournament, maybe even tournament in general, playing in weather like this,” said Gauff, noting she warmed up for 20 minutes before going on court so she could walk in with a sweat.

Gauff, the 2018 French Open junior champion, gets Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan in the second round after playing a match in leggings for the first time in about six years.

She’s coming off an impressive last year-plus, reaching the fourth round at the most recent Wimbledon and Australian Open. In between, she became the youngest WTA tournament champion since 2004. She recorded wins over Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka.

Gauff will bid over the next nine months to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team outright by being among the top four Americans in WTA rankings after the 2021 French Open. Therefore, her result at this French Open will not count toward Olympic qualifying.

She is currently ranked 51st overall and eighth among Americans.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Earlier Sunday, Williams finished her 2020 with a third first-round loss in as many Grand Slam tournaments — 6-4, 6-4 to Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

With the WTA’s autumn Asian swing canceled, Williams said she won’t play before next season starts in Australia.

Williams, 40 years old and ranked 76th, will need a scintillating start to 2021 to make the U.S. Olympic team in singles. She is currently the 14th-highest-ranked American. If she doesn’t make it in singles, Williams (or Gauff) could be chosen as a doubles-only player for the Tokyo Games.

Top seed Simona Halep took the last 10 games of her 6-4, 6-0 win over Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo. Halep, who is on a 15-match win streak dating to February, could play Gauff in the quarterfinals.

On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka swept Andy Murray 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in a battle of three-time major champions and a rematch of their life-changing 2017 semifinal in Paris.

“I need to have a long, hard think about it,” Murray said. “I don’t feel like the conditions are an excuse for it.”

It marked Murray’s first match on clay since that semi, won by Wawrinka in five sets. After that match three years ago, Wawrinka underwent two knee surgeries and Murray had two hip surgeries. Neither has made a Grand Slam semifinal since, and Murray nearly retired due to hip problems.

U.S. men went 3-0 on Sunday after winning one match total at the 2019 French Open.

The most notable victor: Sebastian Korda, the 20-year-old son of Czech 1998 Australian Open winner Petr Korda and brother of Nelly Korda, the world’s second-ranked female golfer.

Korda beat Italian veteran Andreas Seppi 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to become the youngest U.S. man to win a French Open main-draw match since 18-year-old Andy Roddick defeated Michael Chang in 2001.

Korda, after his first tour-level win, gets John Isner in the second round.

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal, each trying to tie Grand Slam singles titles records, play first-round matches on Monday.

MORE: Halep, Comaneci and the genesis of a Romanian friendship

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Julian Alaphilippe wins world road race title with late attack

Julian Alaphilippe
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Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a road cycling world title in 23 years, attacking late and holding on to prevail by 24 seconds in Imola, Italy, on Sunday.

Alaphilippe, who wore the Tour de France yellow jersey for 16 stages between the last two years, went clear from a star-filled group at the top of the last climb with about eight miles left of a 160-mile day.

“It was a dream of my career, you know,” said Alaphilippe, whose best previous worlds finish was eighth. “I came here with, for sure, a lot of ambition. It’s just a dream day for me.”

Belgian Wout van Aert took silver, followed by Swiss Marc Hirschi in a five-man bunch sprint for the last two medals. Van Aert also earned silver in the time trial on Friday.

Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who was second in the Tour de France, finished sixth in the same time as the silver and bronze medalists after more than six and a half hours of racing.

The top American was Sepp Kuss in 52nd place, 12:35 behind.

Full results are here.

The last Frenchmen to win world titles were Laurent Brochard (road race) and Laurent Jalabert (time trial) in 1997.

Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who won the Tour de France last Sunday, attacked with 26 miles left. He led by as much as 25 seconds before being reeled back in with about 13 miles to go.

The cycling season continues with the last two Grand Tours, each starting later than normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Giro d’Italia begins Oct. 3, and the Vuelta a Espana starts Oct. 20, before the Giro finishes.

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MORE: A more equal future for women’s cycling? Lizzie Deignan has high hopes