The Olympics free skate event is underway in PyeongChang, and in what must have been a lovely Valentine's Day celebration, two married skaters on the American team advanced to the finals on Wednesday. The video of Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim's free skate routine is absolutely stunning to watch, and serves as a reminder that the Olympics are every bit as much about beauty, elegance, and grace as they are about raw athletic power.
Chris and Alexa, the only married pair in Wednesday's event, didn't have a flawless performance. Chris stumbled on both of their triple jumps, and Alexa over-rotated on their triple twist lift. At the same time, the couple also managed to land a quad twist — making them the first Americans to do so in an Olympic competition, according to the Associated Press. Moreover, Chris and Alexa already helped the U.S. team score a bronze medal in the team competition on Sunday.
Although it's never easy to qualify for the Olympics, the road to the PyeongChang Games has been especially fraught for Chris and Alexa. After winning a silver medal at the U.S. championships in 2013, Chris broke his leg, and the duo failed to qualify for the Sochi Olympics. They rebounded, though, winning their first U.S. title in 2015. Then, in June 2016, they got married.
Two months later, however, tragedy struck when Alexa was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening gastrointestinal illness. She underwent multiple surgeries, her weight dropped to 80 pounds, and as a result of the illness, she and her husband were forced to miss most of the 2016-17 season.
“Initially, after my setback with my stomach illness, we had to relearn everything,” Alexa told the Chicago Tribune. “And it was very difficult to train because my stomach incision was still healing. And in pairs skating, there’s a lot of hand contact near the abdomen.”
Alexa healed in time to compete at the Four Continents in February 2017, and they placed sixth in that competition. But soon thereafter, Chris succumbed to a knee injury, yet another setback to both him and his wife. He told the Tribune that, thanks to his physical therapy following the injury, he wasn't able to do repetitive jumps during training, which limited Alexa's ability to practice their side-by-side jump routines.
“For a while, it seemed like one bad thing after another,” Alexa told the Tribune.
And yet the couple was able to bounce back from this too, and in January, U.S. Figure Skating announced that the pair had been selected to represent America in the PyeongChang games. In addition to being the only U.S. figure skating pair at the 2018 Olympics, the duo is also the first married couple to compete for the U.S. team in the Olympics in 20 years.
Chris and Alexa told the Tribune that being a figure skating team has inadvertently improved their communication as a romantic couple. “At home, in a normal everyday situation, you can argue," Chris said. "I can go in the garage. Alexa can bedazzle something. We can cool down in that way. In the rink, on the ice, communication is No. 1....We don’t have the privilege of being able to separate." This, Alexa says, helped them learn how to address conflicts in a productive and supportive way, both on and off the ice.
“If one of us is upset after a mistake, instead of saying, ‘Can you have a better attitude?’ or ‘Can you not react so negatively?’ we’ve learned go about it a different way,” Alexa told the Tribune. “It’s like, ‘What can I do to help you?’ Or you just lend a supportive hand.”
It looks like that approach has paid off. After their short program routine on Valentine's Day, Chris gave Alexa an oversized teddy bear and a heart-shaped note that read, "Will you (still) be mine?" Judging by the look on her face immediately after receiving the gift, the answer would appear to be a resounding "yes."