Knierims skate with heavy hearts at Olympics pairs

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim of the USA react as their scores are posted following their performance in the pairs free skate figure skating final in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) Before heading out to skate on the Olympic ice Thursday, the Knierims saw the news of the deadly Florida high school shootings. The only U.S. pairs skaters at the games were hurting.

”I’m emotionally drained,” Alexa Scimeca-Knierim said as she broke down in tears following one of the most difficult performances of their careers. ”I kind of put pressure on myself and wanted to honor those who were lost today.

”We are so privileged and lucky to be doing what we are doing, and it’s so sad that 17 people died in the United States. I told Chris today he’d need to be so much stronger than me.

”I am disappointed with the way we performed today, but so many people at home are hurting because their children have died.”

She stopped to gather herself as her husband patted her on the head.

”I was not focused on it while we were skating, but now that we are done, after we’ve skated, there’s an emotional hurt,” she said. ”I am overwhelmed.”

Scimeca-Knierim said she was bothered the previous night by intestinal problems, though nothing related to major abdominal surgeries she underwent in recent years that nearly curtailed their career. Their struggles on the ice Thursday, when they finished 15th out of 16 pairs, mainly stemmed from Chris falling twice on jumps, and some uncoordinated spins.

”We did hit the quad twist,” he noted of the move in which he tosses his wife above his head and she twists four times before he catches her. They are the first U.S. couple to do the maneuver in an Olympics, though the quad twist is becoming more common throughout the world. ”That was the highlight of the program, unfortunately.”

The Knierims own a bronze medal for the team event, of course. They skated four stressful programs in a span of a week, and with practice sessions and early morning wake-up calls, it’s been a wearing time.

Both recognized they weren’t close to their best in the free skate.

”My first thought,” she said about their performance, ”was I hope teams that are not here – we all want to be here – aren’t saying they could’ve done better. We hate to skate poorly enough for a team not here to feel they could’ve done better than us.”

The Knierims will remain in South Korea and soon begin training for the world championships set for late March in Milan. She recognized that they made a contribution to their nation with a bronze medal, and to their sport, judging by social media comments directed to them.

”What’s really special and we’ve never experienced before is the reach,” she said, ”and people who do not even following figure skating, it’s so cool they are all writing the same thing. They say our story is an inspiration and they enjoy watching us. Even though we were not medaling (in the pairs event) or super competitive with the top teams, we are bringing enjoyment to them.”

Before Scimeca-Knierim left the media zone, she asked to deliver a message back to those mourning in the U.S.

”I maybe am being too tough on myself, but we wanted to lift the spirits of those who have lost someone,” she said. ”Even though we are here, our hearts are with them. And we may be living in a different world here with all the Olympic hype, but we are hurting with them.”

More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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