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Knierims bail out US in Olympic team skating event

Mark Zeigler, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Olympics

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea -- When your wife has had three abdominal surgeries to repair an intestinal disorder that nearly killed her, when a broken leg wiped out your chances at the last Olympics, a training crash a few days before flying to the Winter Games that requires seven stitches to close a bloody forehead gash is merely a bit of minor turbulence.

And making your Olympic debut in figure skating's pressure-packed team event? No problem.

Ramona's Chris Knierim and wife Alexa did what many thought singles skater Nathen Chen would do for them, propping up U.S. hopes for a team medal with a near-flawless short program after Chen had uncharacteristically Zambonied the ice less than an hour earlier.

The Knierims scored 69.75 points for their short program, nearly four above their previous season best. That put Team USA in second place behind Canada after the first of three days in the team competition that includes short and free programs in singles, pairs and dance.

It didn't look that way after Chen, the men's singles favorite, had one of the worst skates of his career -- downgrading the back end of combination jump and falling on a triple Axel. His score of 80.61 was nearly 24 points below his season best.

"'Let the team down' was the first thing I thought," said Chen, who landed five quadruple jumps in his free program at the U.S. Championships last month. "Definitely not a representation of who I am and what I can do ... It wasn't a nerves thing. I just wasn't in the right place mentally going in.

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"No one wants to skate like that on Olympic ice."

The buses shuttling athletes and media to venues have TVs on them with live Olympic feeds, and the Knierims -- who were 10th at the 2017 World Championships -- watched Chen's shocking collapse on their way to Gangneung Ice Arena. Which merely cranked up the pressure for their skate, with Team USA in fourth place and at least one team behind it (Russia) having strong entrants in the other disciplines.

They shook their heads.

"Going into nationals, we were a little bit more nervous," Chris said. "You're not officially on the team, regardless of the body of the work you had. It still has to be official. Once that happened, it was a huge relief for me. This is like a cherry on top. We've had a tough couple years, and this is something really special."

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