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US pairs skater Chris Knierim takes journey from California to Olympics

Mark Zeigler, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Olympics

Figure skating is an expensive sport. Chris Knierim, having moved from Ramona, Calif., to Colorado to pursue his ice dreams, needed money to pay for it.

So he got a job at a Sears Auto Center and then Goodyear, first as a tire buster, then changing oil, then aligning suspensions. Eventually he moved to a small shop in Colorado Springs called Ford Street Fleet Services, rebuilding transmissions, even fixing Sea-Doos and motor homes. He went to the rink from 9 a.m. to noon, worked under the hood from 1 to 5, went to class to study diesel mechanics from 6 to 9 p.m.

Axels and axles, Lutzes and lug nuts.

He skated pairs and had three different partners in the sport's junior levels, consistently winning titles with them but needing a better match for his rapidly improving skills. His coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, found him a promising, new partner in 2012 from suburban Chicago named Alexa Scimeca. He picked her up at the airport in a '99 black Camaro that he had souped up from 300 to 800 horsepower. He mentioned that he liked cars as the scenery outside blurred past.

Alexa liked him, and a few months later she decided to visit him at his day job.

"I wore this little mini skirt," Alexa says. "He came out from under a car in his Dickies coveralls -- I thought he looked kinda sexy -- and I was like, 'Here are some doughnuts.' The guys he works with were like, who's that? He said: 'My skating partner.'

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"And they were like: 'Oh, now I see why you skate pairs.' "

Here's another reason: Chris and Alexa, now married, are going to the Olympics.

From the beginning

DeeDee Couch was a gymnast first.

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