Alexa Scimeca Knierim, Christopher Knierim hold on for third U.S. pairs’ title

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Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim moved three times after they skated at the Olympics. They changed coaches twice. They finished seventh at last season’s national championships. They lost a sponsor. He had to sell his collection of cars, including that beloved Camaro.

“So now I have a motorcycle, and Alexa has her car, and that’s about it,” Knierim said. “It was sad.”

It must have felt worth it Saturday night.

The Knierims held on to win their third U.S. pairs’ title, edging training partners Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson by 2.58 points. They are the first U.S. pair to win three national titles since 2002 and are headed back to the world championships in March.

The U.S. Championships conclude Sunday with the men’s free skate in Greensboro, N.C., live on NBC Sports.

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The Knierims’ victory, saved after he fell on a side-by-side triple toe loop in Saturday’s free skate, came after a tumultuous two years.

After placing 15th at the Olympics and worlds in 2018, they left longtime coach Dalilah Sappenfield — who officiated their 2016 wedding — to train under 2018 Olympic champion Aljona Savchenko. They moved from Colorado Springs to Chicago, then to join Savchenko in Germany. They left Savchenko weeks later in fall 2018, saying if they had stayed, it would have “been more of a downward slope in some terms of things than others.”

Then came a move to Southern California to be coached by three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand. The Knierims shared a rink with Calalang and Johnson, who were paired together by Meno and Sand in 2018. They had to make lifestyle changes to accommodate cost of living, including coaching younger skaters more than they ever had in Colorado.

“We had some things that we had to get rid of, but it made us stronger,” said Scimeca Knierim, who came to nationals with her husband ranked second this season among Americans. “The only thing you need at the end of the day is love, and that’s what we have. So I don’t really care that we had to give up a lot of things.”

Calalang and Johnson never finished better than fifth in seven combined nationals appearances, either together or with previous partners. They ranked fifth among American pairs in the fall international season, their second together.

Their leading free skate nearly erased a 9.5-point deficit from the short program, where the Knierims were first and Calalang and Johnson were fourth. Now they look poised to join the Knierims as the second and final pair on the world championships team.

“The amount of audience support that I felt at the very end of that program was overwhelming,” Johnson said. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve felt on the ice.”

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the 2016 U.S. champions, had minor errors on throw landings Saturday. Those were enough to be passed by Calalang and Johnson and drop from second after the short to bronze.

Defending champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc fell from third after the short to fourth after several jumping errors. Cain-Gribble and LeDuc were the sole U.S. pair at last year’s worlds and made the top 10 (ninth) to earn back a second U.S. pairs’ spot at this year’s worlds.

Another set of past champions, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, suffered a fall on throws in both programs. They ended up fifth.

The U.S. last won a world medal in pairs in 2002. China, Russia and Canada have higher-ranked team this season.

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Joey Mantia extends U.S. medal streak at speed skating worlds; Dutch dominance returns

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Joey Mantia ensured the host U.S. finished with a medal at the world single distances championships. Ireen WüstKjeld Nuis and Jorrit Bergsma ensured the Netherlands finished atop the medal standings.

Mantia joined Shani Davis as the only U.S. men to earn individual medals at three different editions of the championships, taking bronze in the 1500m on the last day of the speed skating meet at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Mantia won the mass start at the last two worlds in 2017 and 2019 (and finished fifth on Sunday, after the 1500m bronze).

Mantia clocked a personal best 1:42.16 in the fifth of 12 pairs of the 1500m. It held up until Nuis (1:41.66) and countryman Thomas Krol (1:41.73) in the last two pairs.

“Was starting to think that I’m so old that I can’t time trial anymore,” Mantia, a 34-year-old whose last 1500m personal best came in 2015, told media in Utah. “Maybe there’s a little bit of hope left.”

Mantia’s medal extended the U.S. streak of making the podium at every world championships this millennium — 16 straight. The single bronze is the smallest medal output since 2000.

Full results are here.

Wüst and Nuis gave the Dutch a sweep of the men’s and women’s 1500m titles, two years after they did the same at the PyeongChang Olympics. Bergsma, an Olympic and world 10,000m champion, earned his first global medal of any color — gold — in the 16-lap mass start.

The Netherlands failed to earn any golds on the first two days of the four-day competition. The dominant Dutch, who topped the medal standings at every Olympics and worlds dating to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, entered Sunday trailing Russia.

But Wüst began the day by clocking 1:50.92 to win the 1500m by .21 over Russian Yevgenia Lalenkova. American medal hope Brittany Bowe, the 2015 World champion who took bronze last year, finished 14th a day after taking eighth in her world-record 1000m distance.

Nuis and Krol went one-two in the men’s 1500m to tie Russia’s medal total. Then Irene Schouten took bronze in the women’s mass start to put the Netherlands ahead for good, followed by Bergsma’s capper.

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Netherlands on the board; more world records at speed skating worlds

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It took four world records from other countries before the Netherlands won its first title in an Olympic program event at the world single distances speed skating championships.

Jutta Leerdam got the dominant skating nation on the board on the third day of the four-day competition and in the ninth Olympic program event. Leerdam scored an upset over defending champion and world-record holder Brittany Bowe, the American who ended up eighth.

Leerdam, 21, prevailed despite having zero World Cup podiums to her name. She clocked 1:11.84, just .23 slower than Bowe’s world record set on the same Utah Olympic Oval last year. Bowe, who recently had her yearlong win streak snapped in the 1000m, finished in 1:12.92.

“It’s a nightmare,” Bowe said, according to media on site.

Later, the Netherlands won the men’s team pursuit in a world record 3:34.68, the fifth world record in Olympic events the last two days on the world’s fastest ice at the 2002 Olympic oval outside Salt Lake City.

Full results are here.

The world championships conclude Sunday, highlighted by American Joey Mantia defending his world title in the mass start.

In other Saturday events, both the men’s 1000m and women’s 5000m world records fell. On Friday, world records were lowered in the men’s 10,000m and women’s team pursuit.

Pavel Kulizhnikov followed his Friday world 500m title with the 1000m crown, repeating his double gold from 2016. Kulizhnikov was one of the Russians banned from the PyeongChang Olympics after he served a prior doping ban.

On Saturday, Kulizhnikov clocked 1:05.69 to take .49 off Dutchman Kjeld Nuis‘ record from last March, also set at Salt Lake City. Nuis, the Olympic 1000m and 1500m champion, took silver, 1.03 seconds behind.

Russian Natalya Voronina and Czech Martina Sablikova both went under Sablikova’s world record in the 5000m. Voronina came out on top in 6:39.02, 2.99 seconds faster than Sablikova’s record from a year ago and 2.16 seconds faster than Sablikova on Saturday.

Voronina’s time would have been the men’s world record as recently as 1993. Sablikova won the previous 10 world titles in the event dating to 2007.

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MORE: World Single Distances Championships broadcast schedule