U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen are going to PyeongChang. Ashley Wagner was left off the Olympic team.
A U.S. Figure Skating committee chose the three-woman Olympic team after the national championships free skate on Friday night.
The committee went with the top three finishers from nationals, though it could have strayed based on this criteria. Wagner was fourth and one of three Olympic alternates.
Tennell, 19, leads the team after winning her first senior national title as part of a breakout season.
The Chicagoland native was nearly flawless with jumps in San Jose, topping the short program and free skate one year after placing ninth at nationals.
“I knew it was an Olympic year, and I knew that somebody has to go, so I just kind of kept it in the back of my mind all season,” Tennell, who missed six months between the last two years due to back injuries, said Friday night. “The first time it entered my mind was when I won my junior title back in 2015, and probably the reason I thought that is that a lot of previous Olympic team members have won junior titles, so I thought, ‘Ooh, this is the first step to making the Olympics.’”
Tennell is the top U.S. woman overall this season, ranking 14th in the world. A U.S. women’s medal in PyeongChang against the top skaters from Russia, Japan, Canada and Italy would be a tall ask.
Nagasu is going back to the Olympics eight years after she finished fourth in Vancouver and 10 years after her national title as a 14-year-old.
Nagasu bawled Friday night, and for good reason.
She was tearfully left off the 2014 Olympic team of three women, despite finishing third at nationals. A committee put fourth-place Wagner on the Sochi team because of the aforementioned criteria.
“I’m aware that I’m the oldest here tonight, but I really feel like the comeback kid,” Nagasu, whose two programs at nationals were highlighted by triple Axels (though with messy landings), said Friday night. “I cannot wait for the decision to come out because I cannot wait to be that 5-year-old girl who began this journey.”
Chen, the youngest team member at 18, edged Wagner for bronze by 2.4 points on Friday night.
The 2017 U.S. champion and fourth-place finisher at 2017 Worlds said she was bedridden by sickness all Thursday.
“I’m just so proud of myself that I was able to forget about all the pain I was in and just keep reminding myself that I trained so hard for this moment and I’m not going to let some stupid sickness win,” Chen said.
Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion and the only American woman to win an individual Olympic or world medal in the last decade.
The 2016 World silver medalist tried to rally from a fifth-place short program with a brand-new free skate to “La La Land” but struggled with jumps and was given lower-than-usual artistic scores overall.
Afterward, Wagner said she was underscored and criticized judges (video here). She said she deserved to be put on the team like she was in 2014.
U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier disagreed and said the 13 committee members’ decision was unanimous.
“We’d be having a different conversation if she had done a clean [triple-triple] combination in the short and hit the level four spin [in the free skate],” said Auxier, who was part of the committee. “She’s a great athlete, and hopefully she will stay in the sport.”
The committee looked at results from the last year in picking the team, and Wagner is coming off her two worst seasons in several years. Chen’s better results from 2017 Nationals and Worlds boosted her case.
“Clearly, Bradie and Mirai with their scores and their performances were easy one and two,” Auxier said. “The discussion between Karen and Ashley was pretty academic. Karen was fourth at worlds last year; Ashley seventh. Then third versus fourth at this U.S. Championships. So it was very straightforward, clear criteria for selecting Karen as the third member of the team.”
Wagner was named to the team for the Four Continents Championships in three weeks.
“As an athlete, I’m allowed to be mad,” was posted on Wagner’s social media after the Olympic team was named. “As a senior competitor with over 10 years of experience, I’m allowed to question things. At the end of the day, I laid out my best and I’m going home proud! Congrats to the lovely ladies of the team, you’ve got me in your cheering squad now!”
The U.S. Championships continue Saturday with the pairs’ and men’s free skates. A full broadcast schedule is here.
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