Bradie Tennell leads Olympic figure skating team; Ashley Wagner left off

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U.S. champion Bradie TennellMirai 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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IOC: ‘More exciting initiatives’ for Korean unity in PyeongChang

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Olympic organizers on Friday welcomed an agreement between North and South Korea to unite athletes at the PyeongChang Winter Games and promised that “much more exciting initiatives” promoting Korean unity will emerge this weekend.

“Watch this space,” International Olympic Committee presidential spokesman Mark Adams told The Associated Press in an interview, a day before a crucial meeting of Korean delegations at Olympics headquarters in Lausanne.

He declined to elaborate, saying the decisions would come Saturday.

Referring to a detailed peace-making agreement between the rival countries announced Thursday by South Korea’s Unification Ministry, including a joint team in the women’s hockey tournament, Adams said it was “great … but these are discussions” — meaning the IOC had not yet given the deal the final green light.

“I can tell you that there will also be some much more exciting initiatives coming through as well tomorrow,” he added.

Provided that the IOC finalizes the deal, it would mark the first time the two National Olympic Committees would be competing together in a single team.

Some have questioned the fine print of the agreement announced by the two Koreas, saying it gives the combined hockey squad a far larger roster than any other national team.

Asked how the IOC planned to maintain the integrity of the sport, Adams said: “People would say that these are exceptional circumstances, and we need exceptional measures.”

“This is about the Olympic spirit,” Adams added. “And the Olympic spirit is about nations competing, athletes competing, and we will do our best make sure that it sends a signal that sport can improve the world.”

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Julia Mancuso skis final race dressed as Wonder Woman (video)

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Julia Mancuso bid farewell like only she could — with a tiara, cape and Wonder Woman suit.

The most decorated female U.S. Olympic skier with four medals announced Friday morning that today’s World Cup downhill in Cortina d’Ampezzo would be the last race of her career.

More on Mancuso’s retirement, career and immediate future here.

She raced Friday as her nickname — “Super Jules” — and coasted to the bottom 18 seconds slower than winner Sofia Goggia.

Afterward, U.S. Ski Team members sprayed her with champagne and lifted her up in the finish corral.

Mancuso chose an appropriate venue for her last race.

She notched her first World Cup podium in Cortina in January 2006, then won the Olympic giant slalom in Sestriere, Italy, four weeks later.

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