Knierims back on top in U.S., but world's best pairs far above them

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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Alexa Scimeca Knierim and her husband, Chris, had achieved the results they wanted.

The Knierims didn't merely back into the lone U.S. Olympic pairs spot all but conceded to them because of their unquestioned recent superiority over all their U.S. rivals: They made the selection committee's eventual decision a rubber stamp by winning a second national title Saturday afternoon at the SAP Center.

But, as evidenced by their downcast demeanor while waiting to hear the free skate scores, they were left with a hollow feeling.

"It wasn't our best skate," Chris said.

They made big mistakes on both jumping passes, the first including her fall and his downgrade on planned side-by-side triple salchows. That made it easy to forget how impressively they had begun the program, with a lofty quad twist and a big throw triple salchow.

"I was a little bummed," Alexa said. "I didn't have that feeling when you know you've nailed the program, and you feel so alive inside, and you want to celebrate.

"I was concerned whether we would win or not," she continued. "We came here wanting to make the Olympic team, but to say I didn't care if we were champions again would be a lie."

They won the short program and the free skate and finished almost six points ahead (206.60 to 200.80) of Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea, who had beaten the Knierims for the 2016 title but were forced to withdraw from last season's U.S. championships after Kayne suffered a concussion on a fall during the short program.

Kayne also fell on an element, as did the female partner on the third-place team of Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay. (Stellato-Dudek's fall was on a throw quad salchow throw, for which the team received full base value.)

Such flaws have been the bane of U.S. pairs skating over a nearly 15-year stretch in which the teams from this country have fallen far behind those vying for medals at global championships.

"There is this dark rain cloud over pairs," Kayne said.

The top U.S. pair ended ninth and 10th, respectively, at the last two Olympics. They've also recorded 10th-, ninth-, seventh-, 11th-, ninth- and eighth-place finishes at the last six world championships.. Not since 1988 -- when Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard earned the bronze medal -- has a U.S. couple won an Olympic pairs medal. The only world medal in this century was a bronze at an Olympic-year championships (2002).

"We have to prove ourselves," Kayne said. "But it also would be great if people would stop counting us out."

Scimeca Knierim knows what it would take to erase what she calls the "stigma of U.S. pairs."

"I don't think people are going to change their minds unless we win a medal again," she said. "We've had teams in the top seven and top six at worlds, and it didn't change anyone's mind."

(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)