How’s this as the perfect script for an Olympic romance movie?
Two people who met through sports, fell in love and were married, then overcame heartbreak and a life-threatening illness, will compete – together, as a pair -- on Valentine’s Day?
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Chris Kneirim and Alexa Scimeca Knierim will indeed take to the Gangneung Ice Arena surface on Wednesday, the sweetest day of the calendar, in the figure skating pairs competition.
“It is going to be a special Valentine’s Day,” Chris Knierim told USA TODAY Sports. “One we might never have again.”
If the mysterious and unexplained forces of love combined to create the most perfect of Winter Olympic coincidences for them, the Knierims deserve their slice of fortunate timing.
In 2016, Alexa was diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal gastrointestinal illness after suffering repeated vomiting episodes. Already slight and petite, her weight plummeted to just over 80 pounds. Two surgeries cured the worst of the problem, but left her with a long scar on her abdomen and cost the pair months of training.
It is past them now, albeit not forgotten, and the Knierims now have the twin delights of Valentine’s Day and their short program to focus on simultaneously.
“We will have a Valentine’s Day that no other married couple on the ice will have,” Alexa said. “It will be a most unique bond because there is no other pair competing at the Games that is married so it will be one in a million.”
Sportswriting is sometimes a game for hardened hearts and cynical eyes, but there is no two ways around it: The Knierim are a truly adorable couple on a gold medal scale.
During figure skating’s team event they sat cuddled together in the bullpen, cheering on the rest of the United States squad, having already played a major role in helping the Americans to bronze with two strong skates.
They got together as a skating couple in 2012 and a few months later, while watching Lord of the Rings together, Chris found the courage to edge ever closer on the seat and found out that yes, she liked him too.
By 2014 they were engaged, and got married two years after. Alexa remembers the first Valentine’s Day they celebrated, when she came home to discover a single rose, a teddy bear and a card on the bed.
“Chris has always been very quiet, kinda mute,” their coach Dalilah Sappenfield laughed. “When I teamed them up within a month I could see Chris changing. He had never hung out with his partner before, but now he was always with her and you could just tell there was chemistry.”
Success on the ice followed and the Knierims are a winning team in more ways than one. The performance element of figure skating is crucial, so much so that Sochi gold medalist Charlie White kept his personal relationship with former skater Tanith Belbin quiet, so that the crowd and the judges believed he was actually romantically involved with his skating partner Meryl Davis.
With the Knierims , there is no need to act out a love story. They’re living it, and even sealed their opening Olympic performance last week with a couple of on-ice kisses. And, stashed in their Games luggage, is a secret Valentine’s gift for each other.
“I think it shows while we are skating more than ever how much we love each other,” Chris said. “Not all the teams have the connection. It’s natural for us so it’s nice we don’t have to work on it. We just get to have date nights instead.”
Before we get too sappy it should be noted that both of them are fierce competitors, with a strong desire to show why they are two-time national champions to get into the mix in Pyeongchang. From the sidelines during the team event, Alexa was a whirlwind of competitive energy, yelling joyful encouragement at colleagues Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu.
But just when you forget that there is romance in the air when it comes to this day when everyone cherishes their special partner or wishes they had one, Alexa got lost in thought for a moment during this interview, conducted in January at the national championships.
She looked up at Chris and gave a gentle squeeze of his hand, suddenly oblivious to the fact that a reporter was watching.
“With you,” she told him. “Every day is Valentine’s Day.”