Good as gold: Knierim still waiting to claim elusive medal

From the time she put on skates and began training at the Addison Ice Rink as a 7-year-old, Alexa Knierim dreamed of winning Olympic gold.

It's been realized, almost.

As a member of the U.S. Olympic figure skating team that initially claimed silver at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, Knierim recently learned the medal was upgraded to gold when Russia was disqualified after skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for a banned heart medicine.

The International Olympic Committee made the announcement in late January, but Knierim is still waiting to get her hands on the elusive medal.

Equally confounding, the 32-year-old pairs skater has no idea when that early dream will be fully realized.

“It has not sunken in because it has been so long that it doesn't feel like reality,” Knierim said. “Nothing has changed yet. I have not been given the medal or had the recognition for it yet. People have been congratulating me and I have to stop and wonder why.

“And then I recall, it's because the news broke that we will be getting gold. But I'm still waiting for that moment where I really bask in the glory of being an Olympic champion.”

In a perfect world, that moment comes in August, at the Paris 2024 Summer Games. But as Knierim has known for almost two years now, the process is anything but perfect.

Going back to the 2002 Winter Games in Beijing, Knierim and the rest of the U.S. figure skating team were dressed and ready to go to the medal ceremony to claim the silver.

“As we all gathered to go, it was at that exact time messages were being relayed to the U.S. Olympic Committee that there was no ceremony being held due to a possible … they didn't give us a reason,” Knierim said. “They just said the medal ceremony is not going to happen. We were left in the dark that evening all the way to going to sleep. All we knew was it was canceled and something was going on.

“The next morning, there was hearsay that there was a possible scandal, a doping allegation, regarding a Russian athlete. Because the medal ceremony was missed, they don't have other opportunities in the schedule to have a new ceremony because of time and space. We just continued in limbo through the rest of the Olympics without knowing if we were going to have the medal ceremony before we went home or not.”

Addison’s Alexa Knierim spins during the 2022 Winter Olympics. Associated Press

There was no ceremony, and the hurry up and wait continued until January, when the IOC officially ruled the U.S. figure skating team is getting gold medals.

But Russia is appealing the decision, as is Canada, which finished fourth in the 2022 Winter Games and is now pushing for bronze medals.

“There is speculation there could be even more delays,” Knierim said with a sigh. “It's frustrating … at first it was like, 'It is what it is,' because so much time was passing and I was just becoming complacent with the situation because it felt like it was an afterthought to anybody who had control over this situation. So I wasn't giving up, but I was kind of starting to just move on with my life.

Addison’s Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier compete during the 2022 Winter Olympics. Associated Press

“Now that we have a bit of excitement that we got the gold, we're going to get our medals, then recently find out there is possible further delay, it's a bit frustrating just because we know we're still going to get the gold regardless of what happens with third place. I would love to move forward with this because for our U.S. team, we're still going to be deserving of that outcome.”

There's also lingering frustration for Knierim, pairs partner Brandon Frazier and the rest of the U.S. figure skating team about another curious decision in Beijing.

No medals were awarded, but the IOC decided giving out empty boxes was somehow a good idea.

“I don't know why they just didn't hold the boxes until we got the medals,” Knierim said. “They delivered the boxes empty and that was really, really strange. It was kind of like more of a sting. What has been so surreal about this experience is all of the news, information and updates that we receive is coming to us at the same time as you. We learn everything on Twitter and through the media.

“We're never ahead of the game. The experience has been strange just because we have been treated no differently than someone who's not involved, as far as information.”

At this point you'd think Knierim and her teammates would be thrilled if the IOC just put gold medals in the empty boxes and mailed them out.

Maybe, but she believes there is a better way.

She feels the U.S. figure skating team deserves to be presented the medals at Paris Games this summer.

“The U.S. Olympic Committee has given us their word that they will try as hard as they can to give us the ceremony that we as a team hope for,” Knierim said. “Right now, we're requesting to be given our medals at the Paris Olympics in August. We want to be flown there and have a ceremony at an Olympic Games. That is the hopeful plan, August. We're hoping that between now and, let's say July, this whole situation of the appeals from different countries will be finalized.

Addison’s Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier after the pairs team free skate program during the 2022 Winter Olympics. Associated Press

“I think it would really ring in the Olympic spirit that you're not going to be able to replicate by just meeting up at the White House and standing on a podium together. Imagine the feeling of an Olympics at the village and seeing the summer athletes around and that determination. It's what our team wants.”

Knierim will wait for further updates back in her home state.

After graduating from Addison Trail High School and attending the College of DuPage before heading out and winning a bronze with the U.S. figure skating team at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games, Knierim and her husband and former pairs partner Chris Knierim moved back to the Chicago area in June.

“It feels really good to get back to my roots and be around my family,” she said. “I love it. It feels right. I've been away for a while, but it feels good to be back in Illinois.”

Knierim is still on the ice, but she's now coaching at Oakton Ice Arena in Park Ridge.

“I'm enjoying coaching and giving back,” Knierim said. “I don't really have my eyes set on the next Olympics, but I've learned you never say never.”

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