Winter Olympics: Chris and Alexa Knierim keep USA medal hopes alive in Pyeongchang

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The next time you have a ‘domestic’ with your nearest and dearest spare a thought for love on ice couple Chris and Alexa Knierim.

The US figure skaters competing at the olympics are partners on the ice, and married off it.

They say you should never take your work home with you, but for the two-time former US champions it’s unavoidable.

A heated exchange over the cornflakes needs to be quickly forgotten if like Alexa you have to put your total trust in the man you would have happily throttled a short time earlier. He’s the one throwing you up in the air, spinning, and then catching you – all the while having to wear a smile.

“Yeh, you can get that kind of situation, with any relationship whether you’re married or just work partners,” Chris told AFP.

Alexa nods in agreement: “We’re human, so we still run in to that sometimes.”

“I think it’s easy for us in our situation and maybe its different for other people that it’s an asset for us,” Chris adds, “we know what works and what doesn’t, talking, you know how to say something the right way.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim

“It’s a lot of communication, we’ve learned throughout the years of being together what works and what doesn’t.

“We switch off the minute you get in the ring – yeh for sure.”

Rink romance in Pyeongchang is by no means confined to the Knierims.

Russians Vladimir Morozov and Evgenia Tarasova, the two-time European champions, are rarely out of step whether are on or off.

“We had mutual understanding from the very beginning,” Tarasova said.

“I decided to listen to Vladimir in everything, he is older, but I do not remember him ever raising his voice at me.”

Her red-haired work and life companion added: “We practically do not have these situations, honestly! Maybe that’s our power.”

‘Life obstacles’

Evgenia Tarasova (R) and Russia's Vladimir Morozov

With all the athleticism, artistry, and emotional intelligence required in their sport, the Knierims say that life off the ice is by far the easy part.

“Outside the rink life is easy,” explains Alexa.

“I mean skating’s our job, that’s our income, that’s our livelihood, that’s the stress.

“When we go home it’s play time, it’s easy.”

It was not always like that, they say.

“Right after we got married we had a lot of life obstacles,” she said, with Nick agreeing: “We really hit the marriage hard.”

“Yep sickness, death in the family, we hit it all, those things changed us on the ice,” added Alexa.
But love on and off the ice does not conquer all.

The Knierim’s fellow Americans, ice dance pair Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue ended their two-and-a-half year romance but kept the day job and remain a couple on ice.

“To work harder and do all of these things right, we just realised that to date and be with each other 24-7 with our particular personalities was just explosive,” Donohue said.

“We had to ask ourselves what was more important, our on-ice partnership or our off-ice relationship?

“And we were both very clearly said the on-ice partnership is No. 1,” added his ex.

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Winter Olympics: Men's downhill event postponed due to high winds

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The blue riband men’s downhill, scheduled to open the Olympic alpine skiing programme, will be raced Thursday after high winds forced its postponement Sunday.

“Due to the strong wind and unfavourable forecast for today, the men’s downhill is postponed,” the International Ski Federation (FIS) announced.

“The jury has decided to switch the official programme and has rescheduled the men’s downhill for Thursday, February 15, and the men’s super-G on Friday, February 16,” FIS said, with the downhill set to start at 0200 GMT.

The downhill training for the men’s combined event scheduled for Monday has also been cancelled.

It is not the first time Mother Nature has played havoc with the best laid plans for alpine skiing at the olympics.

Four years ago in Sochi, the latter part of the programme was rescheduled because of poor weather while the downhill in Vancouver in 2010 was put back two days because of heavy snow and rain.

The downhill at the 1998 Nagano Games was rescheduled on three occasions, also because of heavy snow and rain.

Just prior to the postponement, FIS said the “hill is closed to everyone”, meaning that the gondola that transports athletes, their backroom staff, timing and course officials up to the Jeongseon slope would not be running.

Hungary's Dalibor Samsal makes a run during the Men's Downhill third Training.

Hungary’s Dalibor Samsal makes a run during the Men’s Downhill third Training.

Luckily for the male racers, they managed to get three downhill training sessions in under their belts, racing the third in similarly gloomy weather forecasts that eased at the last minute.

Given that skiing is an outdoor event, at the mercy of the elements, its Olympic programme is always designed with contingencies at hand.

The 11 medal events in Pyeongchang are run over 17 days, with racers having to have completed at least one downhill training run in order to be able to compete in the downhill proper.

The scheduling allows FIS to be able to tinker with the line-up, often bringing forward more technical events like slalom and giant slalom which can at a push be raced in heavy snow for instance.

“We kind of expected this downhill to be postponed due to wind, but at the same time the guys were charged up and ready to go,” said Sasha Rearick, the men’s alpine head coach of the US team.

“With this being an outdoor sport, it is not abnormal.”

Rearick said racers now have to “harness (energy), stay relaxed, and then be able to ramp back up”.

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Winter Olympics: Carlijn Achtereekte leads Dutch speed skating sweep

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Carlijn won women’s 3,000m speed skating gold.

Carlijn Achtereekte produced the best race of her life to seize the Olympic title and lead a Dutch podium sweep in the women’s 3,000-metre speed skating on Saturday. The 28-year-old skated in the fifth of 12 heats, well before the favourites, but her dazzling effort of 3:59.21 held up to win.

“A gold medal – it’s an incredible feeling. I cannot believe it,” Achtereekte said. “I feel so good.

“I thought I had to skate the best race of my life and I did it and I won – that’s incredible.”

Ireen Wust, the 2006 and 2014 champion, was 0.08sec behind to take silver, with Dutch Olympic trials winner Antoinette de Jong third in 4:00.02.

Achtereekte was third at the Dutch Olympic trials and second in last month’s European championships in 4:06.81, but became a shock winner when it mattered most.

“It was almost perfect,” Achtereekte said of her race. “It was so good a race. I skated so good.”

Wust was on pace for gold until her final lap at Gangneung Oval, faltering just enough at the finish to squander the title.

“I’m feeling OK, a little disappointed,” Wust said. “It was not good. I was on schedule for the gold but the last lap was too hard and I didn’t make it.”

Wust missed out on becoming the first Dutch woman to defend a Winter Olympic title, and only the second woman with back-to-back golds in the event.

Wust took her ninth Olympic speed skating medal, matching the all-time record total of Germany’s Claudia Pechstein and tying the Dutch career record for Olympic medals by equestrian rider Anky Van Grunsven.

But it was another near-miss for Wust, a four-time Olympic champion who also settled for silver in the 1,000m, 1,500m and 5,000m at Sochi in 2014.

“I have to be happy and I will be happy with silver, but I came for gold so it’s a little disappointing. It was a hard one,” Wust said.

Wust would have been the first Dutch athlete to win five Olympic golds in the Winter or Summer Games.

Pechstein, a record nine-time Olympic speedskating medallist who turns 46 later this month, missed her chance to win a medal at a sixth different Winter Olympics, finishing ninth in 4:04.49.

Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida, the great-niece of famed 1950s actress Gina Lollobrigida, finished 13th in 4:08.58.

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