Defending champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Wednesday night when Frazier tested positive for COVID-19.
The pairs event begins Thursday at what amounts to the U.S. trials for the Beijing Olympics team. Knierim and Frazier — who became a duo last season when her husband, Chris, retired from skating — still could be selected for the games, but would need to petition to a selection committee and prove they are fit to be chosen.
The United States has two spots in the pairs field for China.
“We're aware of the process and I have been through it before,” said Knierim, who successfully petitioned to make the 2017 Four Continents event after she underwent abdominal surgeries and was sidelined. “It's not a great feeling to go through it for anyone, but we are grateful that our federation has this mechanism.”
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Knierim competed at the 2018 Winter Olympics with her husband, finishing 15th.
Frazier tested negative Saturday when he began having symptoms. By Tuesday, he was much more ill, and he tested positive Wednesday. He will need to isolate through the weekend.
“I am devastated,” Frazier said. “Any athlete would agree with me, you always want to have the ability to go out and compete. This has been one of the most emotional days of my career. There's nothing you can do, you have to be safe and smart, but the competitor in you wants to go out and compete and defend your title.”
Both Frazier and Knierim are vaccinated and have received boosters; so have their coaches, former U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.
“We feel we provided a safe bubble environment at home, kept the skaters so they weren't cross mixing,” Sand said. “We've been extremely careful.”
Meno added: “It's pretty shocking and upsetting.”
U.S. Figure Skating's process for determining who goes to the Olympics takes into account finishes in key competitions over the past year. Knierim and Frazier have put up the best numbers of any American pairs, and it's not particularly close.
This means their chances of having a petition approved would seem relatively strong.
Still, being on the ice showing what Meno called their “great skating” won't be happening in Nashville.
“Coming in to these championships I felt the strongest and most prepared I have in my entire career of skating,” Knierim said. “Brandon and I felt the strongest we have ever been. We felt more than ready to defend and very confident in our abilities to skate well and having a fair shot at earning out Olympic spot here. We really wanted to do what we came here to do and earn our spot.”
Now, they must wait.