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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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.

Dan Hicks, Rowdy Gaines call backyard pool swim race

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Dan Hicks and Rowdy Gaines covered swimming together at the last six Olympics, including every one of Michael Phelps‘ finals, but they’ve never called a “race” quite like this.

“We heard you were looking for something to commentate during the down time….might this short short short course 100 IM help?” tweeted Cathleen Pruden, posting a video of younger sister Mary Pruden, a sophomore swimmer at Columbia University, taking individual medley strokes in what appeared to be an inflatable backyard pool.

“Hang on,” Gaines replied. “This race of the century deserves the right call. @DanHicksNBC and I are working some magic!”

Later, Hicks posted a revised video dubbed with commentary from he and Gaines.

They became the latest commentators to go beyond the booth to post calls on social media while sports are halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NBC Sports hockey voice Doc Emrick (who has also called Olympic hockey and water polo) did play-by-play of a windshield wiper installation.

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Which athletes are qualified for the U.S. Olympic team?

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Soon after Tokyo Olympic qualifying events began getting postponed, the International Olympic Committee announced that all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes.

The IOC repeated that position over the last week, after the Tokyo Games were postponed (now to open July 23, 2021). What does that mean for the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee?

Well, 76 athletes qualified for the U.S. Olympic team before the Olympic postponement was announced. That full list is here.

Those 76 athletes can be separated into two categories.

  • Athletes who earned Olympic spots BY NAME via International Federation (i.e. International Surfing Association or International Aquatics Federation) selection procedures.
  • Athletes named to the U.S. Olympic team by their national governing body (i.e. USA Swimming or USA Track and Field) and confirmed by the USOPC using NGB selection procedures after the NGB earned a quota spot.

When the IOC says “all quota places already allocated to National Olympic Committees and athletes will remain with those NOCs and athletes,” it means just that. USA Softball still has 15 athlete quota spots from qualifying a full team via international results. Surfer Kolohe Andino still has his Olympic spot from qualifying BY NAME via the International Surfing Association selection procedures route.

USA Softball named its 15-player Olympic roster last fall. Those 15 athletes did not earn Olympic quota spots for themselves. Unlike Andino (and 13 other American qualifiers across all sports), the 15 softball players had to be nominated by USA Softball and confirmed by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Unless and until the USOPC confirms that any of those other 62 athletes remain qualified, for now the list of U.S. Olympic qualifiers is these 14 who qualified BY NAME:

Karate (1)
Sakura Kokumai

Modern Pentathlon (2)
Samantha Achterberg
Amro Elgeziry

Swimming (3)
Haley Anderson
Ashley Twichell
Jordan Wilimovsky

Sport Climbing (4)
Kyra Condie
Brooke Raboutou
Nathaniel Coleman
Colin Duffy

Surfing (4)
Caroline Marks
Carissa Moore
Kolohe Andino
John John Florence

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