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Pairs’ champs Alexa Knierim, Brandon Frazier out of figure skating nationals due to COVID-19

ISU World Figure Skating Championships - Stockholm: Day Two

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - MARCH 25: Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of United States perform in Pairs Free Skating during ISU World Figure Skating Championships at Ericsson Globe on March 25, 2021 in Stockholm, Sweden. Sporting stadiums around Sweden remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images)

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Pairs’ national champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships due to Frazier testing positive for COVID-19 with severe symptoms, it was announced the night before senior competition begins.

They are still eligible for Olympic team selection through a petition process.

“Although my symptoms are pretty bad, nothing sucks more than not being able to compete,” Frazier said in an Instagram video posted Wednesday night.

Frazier tested negative before arriving in Nashville on Monday for the competition, then started developing severe symptoms late Tuesday evening and got a test as a precaution. He was not required by event rules to be tested again until four days after his arrival.

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Frazier is vaccinated and boosted against the virus, Knierim said on social media.

“We have taken all the necessary precautions leading up to these Championships, including but not limited to social distancing, the use of KN95 masks and canceling all holiday gatherings as well as private lessons at the rink, so it has been shocking and devastating for us to process what has happened,” she wrote.

Knierim said Wednesday night that they will petition to a selection committee for one of two pairs’ spots on the Olympic team, which will be decided after Saturday’s free skate and announced Sunday morning. Skater(s) who successfully petition must be able to prove the ability to perform full competition programs by a specified date and be medically approved to compete at the Olympics.

“Brandon and I have accumulated an extremely strong body of work that positions us at the top of the field nationally and we are not letting go of our Olympic dream,” Knierim said. “That said, we have the utmost respect for the selection committee and believe that they will make decisions based on the best interest of our team and our country.”

Knierim and Frazier, the highest-ranking U.S. pair this season, did not take part in official pairs’ practice on Wednesday afternoon in Nashville after doing so on Tuesday, figure skating reporter Jackie Wong said.

Olympic figure skating competition starts Feb. 3 with the team event.

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships are not an Olympic Trials. The Olympic figure skating roster is determined by a selection committee taking into account results from last January’s nationals through this week’s nationals.

Knierim and Frazier, in addition to winning last season’s nationals, were the better of two U.S. pairs at March’s world championships (seventh place) and had the highest score for a U.S. pair in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Knierim and Frazier were expected to battle with three other top pairs for the two Olympic spots -- Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson and Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov.

Knierim, who finished 15th at the 2018 Olympics with since-retired husband Chris, and Frazier partnered last year and quickly ascended to the top of U.S. pairs.

Knierim and Frazier’s spot at the top was under pressure this season: Cain-Gribble and LeDuc put up a score at their last Grand Prix event in November that’s .18 shy of Knierim and Frazier’s best this fall.

Then, in their last competition before nationals, Knierim and Frazier struggled in their free skate and were outscored by another U.S. pair for the first time (Lu and Mitrofanov) at a lower-level event in December.

U.S. pairs’ skating has been so volatile that Knierim could be the first pairs’ skater to make back-to-back Olympics in 20 years (Kyoko Ina, also with different partners). The last U.S. Olympic pairs’ medal came in 1988.

The last figure skater to successfully petition for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team after not competing at nationals was Michelle Kwan in 2006. Kwan ultimately withdrew after arriving for the Torino Games, but before competition, due to a groin injury and was replaced by Emily Hughes.

The last time the Olympic pairs’ roster did not mirror nationals results was 1998, when three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand were named to the team after withdrawing before the free skate due to Meno’s ankle injury. Meno and Sand now coach Knierim and Frazier.

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report from Nashville.

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