Olympics: Alexa Scimeca

LONDON, Ontario -- American pairs skaters are surely tired of being asked when U.S. pairs are going to pull out of their long tailspin on the international scene -- a slide at least partly attributable to the musical-chairs transiency among teams in recent years.

Friday, after making a notably strong statement for a new tandem at the world championships, Alexa Scimeca had an equally strong answer about the staying power she expects of herself and partner Chris Knierim.

"We're in it forever," said Scimeca. "You can quote me on that."

Scimeca and Knierim, together for less than a year, earned a personal best score of 117.78 points for their free skate, set to music from the soundtrack of "Life is Beautiful." Their total score of 173.51 placed them ninth, and that finish, combined with a 13th place from Boston-based Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, guaranteed the United States two entries in the discipline at next year's Olympic Games. (Combined placement of 28 or better was required.)

Scimeca two-footed her landing on an early throw triple-flip jump, but the pair received high marks for their opening triple-twist lift and other elements, including the dramatic death spiral.

"We got everything we went for," Knierim said. "We felt really good out there -- calm, relaxed, another day at the office."

Scimeca and Knierim are both skilled skaters who are well-matched physically on the ice and exude chemistry that appears to be nourished by their romantic relationship outside the rink. He gently kissed her forehead before releasing her from their program-ending clutch, and she made sure she'd wiped the last trace of lipstick from his cheek before they faced reporters and cameras in the bowels of the Budweiser Gardens arena.

Knierim said they haven't had any problems making sure what happens at home stays at home, and Scimeca added that their open channel of communication complements their training. "We can say to each other, 'I'm not feeling good today, don't take it personally.'"

Their coach Dalilah Sappenfield also works with U.S. pair Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, who are in their second season together and opted out of worlds as Coughlin continues to recover from hip surgery.

"Teams want quick success without [putting in] the time behind it," said Sappenfield, whose training group works in Colorado Springs. "It takes a good team three or four years to jell, and my teams are finally understanding that concept."

Castelli and Shnapir, skating first out of 16 pairs Friday, weren't crazy about their free skate score of 108.32, well under their season's best of 117.04. But they, too, said they're committed to the long haul after nearly breaking up a year ago. Their coach Bobby Martin told icenetwork.com earlier this month it was only the latest of "at least nine times, and maybe more, that one or the other was standing on a cliff, ready to jump."

Shnapir said longevity is going to be the key to any eventual U.S. renaissance in pairs -- "Decades [together], not single digits."

Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman's bronze medal in 2002 was the last podium appearance for a U.S. team at the world championships. Jenni Meno and Todd Sand won a world silver and two bronze medals in the mid-to-late '90s, and Americans have been shut out of Olympic medals in the discipline since 1988, when Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard finished third.

LONDON, Ontario -- Dizzying best describes the past year for U.S. pair Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, whose impressive unison spins helped them keep their equilibrium in the short program at the world figure skating championships Wednesday. They finished 12th out of 18 pairs in their worlds debut with a score of 55.73 points. Fellow Americans Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir are just behind them with 55.68 points.

Scimeca, 21, of Addison, Ill., and Knierim, 25, who grew up in San Diego, are an upstart team who began working together just 11 months ago, matched up by coach Dalilah Sappenfield at the Colorado Springs World Arena. The athletic partnership quickly blossomed into a romantic one, as well.

"I don't really recommend it, but they are [an off-ice couple]," Sappenfield told reporters, laughing. "They're adults, they're not little kids, so I have no problem with it ... what happens in the rink, they don't take it home. They're very good about that."

Their bond may have worked to their advantage in the intense environment of a world championships -- a trip that was far from a sure thing after their second-place finish at nationals in January. "I told them to stay focused and connected with each other, because they find comfort in each other," Sappenfield said.

Boston-based Castelli, 22, and Shnapir, 25 won in Omaha to secure a spot on the world team. 2012 U.S. champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, who are also part of Sappenfield's Colorado Springs group, did not compete at nationals as Coughlin was still recovering from hip surgery, but successfully petitioned to be named to the world team based on past results.

However, in mid-February, Denney and Coughlin elected not to go to worlds so Coughlin can "heal correctly," in Sappenfield's words, and focus on an Olympic bid in 2014.

Scimeca and Knierim said they trained all along as if they were sure things rather than first alternates. They've drilled spin technique, a previous weak link, in four sessions with specialty coach Janet Champion over the past few weeks.

"It's paying off really well," Scimeca said. "She's given us both different things that we've never really looked at before. We try really hard to match each other's fly and sit positions. We were both shocked by how different things were."

Scimeca said she has had to "train smart" because of a bone bruise and tendonitis in her right foot that forced the pair to withdraw from last month's Four Continents event, but the condition has largely cleared up in the past two weeks.

Castelli and Shnapir recovered well from Shnapir's fall on side-by-side triple Salchows when he launched her into a huge throw triple Salchow.

"It wasn't our best. I definitely think we can do better and we will do better," Castelli said of the program, also their first at a world championships.

Both stressed they're competing here for experience and trying not to dwell too much on placement. "We know it's worlds, but we do our best to ignore the signs," Shnapir said, gesturing toward the hard-to-miss championship logo-laden backdrop behind him.

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