Surprising U.S. results in Skate America short program (video)

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Bradie Tennell, ninth at last season’s nationals, is complicating the U.S. Olympic team picture.

The 19-year-old bettered the top Americans from last season — Ashley Wagner and Karen Chen — in the Skate America short program at the 1980 Winter Olympic venue on Saturday night.

“It’s a little surprising to me, too, because I think just believing in myself is one of my biggest obstacles,” Tennell said on NBCSN.

Tennell tallied 67.01 points — cleanly landing all her jumps, including a triple-triple combination — in her senior Grand Prix debut. Tennell was the top American at last season’s junior worlds in seventh place.

She is fourth going into Sunday’s free skate, trailing leader Satoko Miyahara of Japan by 3.71.

Wagner, who needs to win this event to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, under rotated two of her four jumps in her short program.

She’s in sixth place with 64.12 points, one year after winning Skate America. Wagner noted a recent ankle injury that cost her a week and a half of training.

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“That program is a good example of how my ankle and my training has kind of affected me,” Wagner said on NBCSN. “Putting things together is a little bit of a challenge.

“My mentality is don’t lose too much in the short program. The long program is always where I plan on making up my points.”

Chen, who won nationals and was fourth at worlds last season, continued her struggles this season by falling hard on a triple loop. She scored 59.53 points for ninth.

“I landed forward, and before I knew it I was flat on my face,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I think I’ll wake up and discover a bunch of bruises. I don’t think I hit my head. A lot of people told me that I may have, but I’m pretty sure my face stayed off the ice, so that’s always a plus.”

The three-woman U.S. Olympic team — chosen based off results from the last year — will be announced after nationals in January.

Wagner and Chen came into this season as favorites to make it, but neither has been particularly impressive in the fall Grand Prix series. No other U.S. woman has put together two strong programs at one event, either.

Meanwhile, Tennell owns the top short program and free skate scores among Americans this season, but that free skate was from way back in September.

Earlier Saturday, Nathan Chen led a U.S. one-two in the men’s event but apologized.

Siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani topped the short dance with an American record 79.18 points.

The three-time world medalists will become the third U.S. couple to clinch a spot in the six-couple Grand Prix Final field with a top-four overall finish after Sunday’s free dance.

More importantly, they’ll go into the Grand Prix Final as the top-scoring U.S. couple this season if they tally 110.26 points in the free dance. The Shibutanis scored at least that high at their last seven international events.

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Skate America
Women’s Short
1. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 70.72
2. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 69.40
3. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 68.08
4. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 67.01
6. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 64.12
9. Karen Chen (USA) — 59.53

Short Dance
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 79.18
2. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 72.70
3. Victoria Sinitsina / Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 68.72
7. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 62.15
8. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 58.36

New generation of male figure skaters owns spotlight at worlds; preview

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Nobody in the men’s field at figure skating worlds owns an Olympic or world title for the first time since 1985. This could lead to the best U.S. men’s results in years.

Yuzuru HanyuJavier Fernandez and Patrick Chan combined to win every gold medal since 2011, but all of them ended their seasons at the Olympics.

This week in Milan, the four leading men, who just competed in their first Olympics, are all 20 years or younger. And that includes two Americans.

Nathan Chen can become the first world singles champion from the U.S. since Evan Lysacek in 2009. Chen and Vincent Zhou could be the first U.S. men to finish in the top five together since Lysacek and Johnny Weir in 2005. Chen, Zhou and Max Aaron could make up the best U.S. trio at a worlds in more than 20 years.

Start with Chen. The 18-year-old said he planned to compete this week regardless of what happened at the Olympics, but after his struggles in the team event and individual short programs, the quad master nailed his free skate, came home to California and said he took maybe one day off of training before this event.

Chen is one of three men in the gold-medal hunt, along with Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan and world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China. While Chen largely struggled at the 2017 Worlds and in PyeongChang, Uno and Jin each made the podium at both events. And each can come close to or equal Chen in quad numbers.

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Zhou, 17, has a chance to become the youngest man to earn a world medal since Hanyu in 2012. Or the first man to win the world junior title one season and make the world senior podium the next since Yevgeny Plushenko in 1997-98.

Zhou is riding momentum. He struggled in the fall and entered nationals in January ranked fifth among Americans for the season. He placed third to make the Olympic team and then landed three clean quads in his Olympic free skate to jump from 12th to sixth.

“I did better there than a lot of people thought I would,” Zhou told NBC Sports research last week. “I knew I was capable of that all season.

“I want to reach my ultimate goal of being Olympic champion, and my best chance is in 2022 … because by 2026 I will probably be old and creaky with four prosthetic limbs.”

Aaron made it to Milan after Olympian Adam Rippon gave up his spot, and the top two alternates (Jason Brown and Ross Miner) both declined. Still, Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, is seeded seventh in the men’s field based on top scores this season.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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Carolina Kostner the sentimental favorite at figure skating worlds

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Olympic champion Alina Zagitova is without question the favorite at this week’s world figure skating championships, especially after the sprightly Russian’s training partner and rival Yevgenia Medvedeva withdrew because of injury.

She won’t be the sentimental favorite, though.

That would be Carolina Kostner, the ageless Italian star who could be competing at worlds for the last time on home soil. The 2012 champion and six-time world medalist seemed to indicate that retirement could be looming after she finished fifth at the PyeongChang Games, where she was chosen to carry the Italian flag at the Closing Ceremony.

Kostner will have a huge home crowd behind her when the event begins Wednesday in Milan.

“Decisions like that should never be taken in a hot moment. It will come naturally,” said Kostner, who no longer can compete with the sport’s high-fliers when it comes to technical marks, but whose elegant artistry and presentation often make up the difference.

“She is an example of perseverance, of a long-lasting athlete,” Medvedeva said. “I have trouble imagining how someone can stay in that shape for a very long time. When you see people like Carolina, you understand that if she can do something, then that something is possible. If you love what you do, you put all of yourself into it, like Carolina Kostner.”

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When asked about retirement, Kostner brought up her cousin, Isolde Kostner, who won three Olympic Alpine skiing medals before deciding to step away from competition.

“She stopped skiing shortly before the (2006) Olympics in Italy,” Caroline Kostner said. “Many did not understand why she wouldn’t pull through because it was her home country, and she said, ‘You will feel strongly when it is time to stop.’ And I haven’t felt it yet.”

The biggest story at the world championships in an Olympic year tends to be who is missing rather than who shows up. The grind of competing for an entire season builds toward the quadrennial event, and athletes who medal or intend to retire rarely press on to worlds. Then there are the injuries, which accumulate during the year.

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