Athlete Profiles: Alexa Knierim, US Pairs Champion
By Colette A. Harris
This weekend, Alexa and Chis Knierim kick off their Grand Prix season at the 2018 Skate America event in Everett, Washington. The duo is coming off of a jam-packed 2017-2018 season, in which they won the US Championships and earned a spot on the 2018 US Olympic team. They represented the United States in the Olympics in the individual event as well the team competition, where they earned a bronze medal. The Knierims are committed to making a bid at the 2022 Olympic Games. This year their goal is make the Grand Prix Final and place in the top six at the World Figure Skating Championships in March. They recently made a coaching change to train under Olympic gold medalist, Aliona Savchenko and are eager to debut their refined technique and new programs in international competition this fall. GOLD sat down with the husband and wife pair team to hear more about their Olympic experience, their new training regimen, and what’s it’s like to train and compete alongside your significant other.
GOLD: You and Chris are the reigning US Pairs Champions and Olympic medalists. To make a bid for the 2022 Games, you’ve made a coaching change and now split your time between training in Hoffman Estates, Il and Oberstdorf, Germany. What prompted you to switch things up?
AK: I think everyone reaches the point where they just need a change because they know if they stay where they are things will stay the same. Chris and I were hungry for more out of ourselves on the ice. We felt we could only accomplish that by changing our coaching staff and location. It’s been more growing pains than that fairytale story of jumping into something new and everything being hunky dory. We are accepting the growing pains as changes to our technique and training regimen. We’re accepting it because we know, with time, it will become the norm and will become easier. Right now, the transition throughout the summer spent relearning everything that we already know in the way our new coach wants it to be done is difficult, but we know that we have time and things will get easier.
GOLD: Tell us about your experience at the Olympics in PyeongChang.
AK: We competed in both the team and individual events. It was definitely difficult to compete four times in one week, but we were so grateful for the opportunity and just grateful to skate four times in the Olympics. We’re happy with the way we performed, but we wish and know we could have done better in three events out of the four. That’s one reason we want to go back [to the Olympics] and have a better skate than we did in 2018.
GOLD: You’ve said you’re committed to trying to make the US team for the 2022 Olympic Games. What’s driving you to keep competing?
AK: The Olympic experience was surreal and amazing and it’s a huge component of why we committed to going [competing] four more years. The feelings that we felt being at an Olympic Games, being with the community, and seeing just how big of an event we were participating in, really gave us a desire to get back there one more time. We had spoken about maybe finishing after this Olympics, but once we got a taste of it, we realized that we’d like to go back and try again. I think committing yourself to this type of lifestyle for four more years has to come from something really inspiring and motivating and that was the Olympics for us.
GOLD: How do you mentally prepare yourself to compete?
AK: For me personally, I always compete my best when I’m in a very calm, controlled state of mind. Sometimes ,when I have too much adrenaline or too much excitement, it's a negative for me. I know a lot of athletes who like to get pumped up with some really powerful music or something to get them moving and amped up. I’m the opposite. l like to listen to music that kind of slows me down, slows my breathing, and keeps me calm. Sometimes I don't even listen to music, I just kind of like the quiet. For my personality too much adrenaline and excitement is a disadvantage. When I’m nervous or insecure, the best way for me to handle it is either to tell Chris that I’m feeling those feeling or tell the coach. When I get it off my chest, I instantly feel better. If I don’t feel better right away, Chris and my coach can sense that something is wrong and kind of help or steer me in a different direction so I am feeling confident and ready to compete. Definitely vocalizing my feelings helps me the most. As competitors, we wake up feeling different every day, so you have to be able to adapt to your mood or feelings on any competition day because you will never feel the same. I competed four times in one week at the Olympics. I didn’t feel the same on any of the days. You have to learn when you need a longer warm-up so you’re prepared for competition or when to simmer down and not do as much off ice warm-up before you compete. For me, it’s about being in the moment and doing what I need to that day. Maybe some people like to keep a regimen and do the same thing every time, but I’ve learned to listen to my body and listen to my mind and adapt to that.
GOLD: What advice do you have for other athletes looking for ways to manage competition nerves?
AK: I definitely try and stay present at all times. At competitions, nerves comes from anticipation. Anticipation is thinking too far ahead. For the younger kids out there, it's always good to advise them that if they’re feeling nervous, it's coming from not knowing what’s going to happen. That means that you’re not focusing on what you’re doing at the time. Always bring yourself back to what you're doing at that exact moment.
GOLD: You and Chris celebrated your second wedding anniversary this summer. What is it like to train and compete with your spouse?
AK: It’s pretty easy. It’s pretty much all we know. We started dating very soon after we teamed up and started spending time together all the time right away. So being together 24/7 is what’s comfortable for us and normal for us. It’s really weird when we have time apart. I think an advantage to it is that we don’t hide anything from each other about what we’re feeling in training or our dreams or aspirations. We’re kind of on the same page. If we’re not, we’ll discuss it. That’s an advantage because we know that we’re aiming for the same thing and working towards the same goals. I think another advantage for us this year particularly has been the ability to leave and train in Europe and then come back to the States and have each other’s company to do so. We’re so lucky that we can share this experience together and go home after training like a normal married couple and just hang out and have dinner together. I think that’s a huge advantage in our partnership that we have this ability that we can go where we need to go and do what we need to do because we’re just going to do it together.
The Knierim’s Favorites
Food: Cookies and oatmeal (Alexa) Chipotle and Doritos (Chris)
TV Show: Reality tv on Bravo (Alexa) The Office (Chris)
Favorite Country to Travel to Compete: Japan (Alexa and Chris)
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photo at top: The Knierims competing at the 2018 US Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California (courtesy of US Figure Skating)