Mariah Bell

Bradie Tennell tops nationals short program; Ashley Wagner in danger

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Rising star Bradie Tennell broke the U.S. Championships short program record with 73.79 points on Wednesday and looks destined for the Olympics.

Ashley Wagner sits a tenuous fifth (65.94) going into Friday’s free skate, which will determine the three-woman team for PyeongChang. She voiced satisfaction.

“This program has been a nightmare for me this entire international season,” Wagner said, adding that this might be her last U.S. Championships. “I’m a long program skater, and that’s where I make my money. So, not too far behind.”

In between Tennell and Wagner are 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu (73.09), 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen (69.48) and surprise Angela Wang in fourth (67.00) in San Jose, Calif.

If those standings hold Friday, Wagner would again have to rely on a selection committee to put her on the Olympic team over a higher-scoring skater.

Wagner placed fourth at 2014 Nationals and was put on the three-woman Olympic team over third-place Nagasu. The selection committee looks at results not just from nationals but from the last year of competitions.

The free skate is Friday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and streaming on NBCOlympics.com. The Olympic team of three women — again, not necessarily the top three at nationals — will be announced Saturday at 8 a.m. ET.

NATIONALS: Full Results | TV Schedule

Tennell, the 2015 U.S. junior champion with a best senior nationals finish of sixth, burst onto the scene this season with the top two international scores by a U.S. woman.

There was concern whether Tennell could rise to the occasion Wednesday, but she nailed it again. She landed all of her jumps clean, including two of the three passes in the second half for a 10 percent bonus.

“I kind of just ignored the whole Olympics aspect of it and just skated how I know how,” she said on NBCSN.

Tennell took bronze at November’s Skate America, outscoring Wagner and Chen with positive grades of execution on all 15 of her jumps and zero under-rotations. Every other top U.S. woman has struggled with jumps.

Tennell’s score at Skate America was the highest by a U.S. woman in international competition since Wagner’s silver medal at the April 2016 World Championships.

But it puts her 14th in this season’s world rankings, well behind the Olympic medal contenders from Russia, Canada, Italy and Japan.

Tennell, a 19-year-old from the Chicago area, may have ascended earlier if not for microfractures in one of the vertebrae in her back. She was off the ice for about three months – roughly all of summer 2016.

Nagasu, fourth place at the 2010 Olympics, seeks her first national title since she won it at age 14 in 2008.

She added the triple Axel this season, becoming the third U.S. woman to land the jump after Tonya Harding and Kimmie Meissner.

Nagasu’s triple Axel landing Wednesday was a mess, but she received credit for the jump. She and Tennell both went above the U.S. Championships short program record set by Chen last season.

A podium finish Friday should be enough to get Nagasu to the Winter Games, though it was not enough four years ago.

Chen is pleased with third place after a rough fall season where she ranked sixth among American women in international events. With her 2017 U.S. title and fourth-place finish at last season’s worlds, she came to San Jose with the top resume according to Olympic selection criteria.

“It’s literally a stock market,” Chen said Wednesday. “There’s ups, downs, and it’s, like, unpredictable.”

Wang, 21, provided a stunning performance for fourth on Wednesday. In six nationals appearances, her best result was seventh last year. Wang may need to win on Friday to be put on the Olympic team, though.

Then there’s Wagner, competing for the first time since pulling out of her Skate America free skate on Thanksgiving weekend with an ankle infection.

The three-time U.S. champion was dinged for under-rotating the second half of her triple-triple combination Wednesday.

Wagner would have a very strong argument to be put on the Olympic team over a higher-scoring Wang, but not Chen. She has largely struggled since taking silver at the 2016 World Championships.

“In years past I’ve been a clear frontrunner internationally,” she said. “I’m in no way, shape or form expecting to rely on my past experience to say whether or not I deserve to be on this team.”

Gracie Gold, the top U.S. woman in Sochi, is sitting out nationals after receiving treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. Gold is in San Jose to support the competing skaters.

The third 2014 U.S. Olympian, Polina Edmunds, is in seventh place with 63.78 points, though she landed all her jumps.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi, struggled this season after missing all of 2016-17 following a bone bruise in her right foot.

Mariah Bell, the 2017 U.S. bronze medalist, stepped out of a landing of her opening triple-triple jump combination. She’s in sixth with 65.18 points.

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PREVIEWS: Men | Women | DancePairsTV Schedule | Olympic Selection

What to watch at U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Wednesday

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Ashley Wagner headlines the field as U.S. Figure Skating Championships senior competition starts Wednesday night with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCOlympics.com.

The women’s short program starts at 9:35 p.m. ET, streaming on Icenetwork.com for subscribers.

NBCSN and NBCOlympics.com coverage starts at 11 p.m. ET from San Jose.

NBCOlympics.com STREAM LINK | START LIST/LIVE RESULTS

The key skaters going Wednesday night:

Polina Edmunds — 9:49 p.m. ET
Bradie Tennell — 10:41 p.m.
Mariah Bell — 11:35 p.m.
Mirai Nagasu — 11:42 p.m.
Ashley Wagner — 12:15 a.m.
Karen Chen — 12:47 a.m.

The three-woman Olympic team will be named after Friday night’s free skate, but it might not be the top three finishers. A committee chooses the team, looking at results from the past year.

Wagner has the most experience as three-time U.S. champion and a Sochi Olympian.

But Tennell is the highest-scoring U.S. woman this season, Nagasu plans a triple Axel and Chen is the defending champion.

Gracie Gold, the top U.S. woman in Sochi, is sitting out nationals after receiving treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. Gold is in San Jose to support the competing skaters.

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PREVIEWS: Men | Women | DancePairsTV Schedule | Olympic Selection

Date Time (ET) Program Network
Wednesday 11 p.m.-1 Women’s Short NBCSN | STREAM | SKATE ORDER
Thursday 4-5 p.m. Pairs Short Olympic Channel | STREAM | SKATE ORDER
5-6:30 p.m. Pairs Short NBCSN | STREAM
8:30 p.m.-12 Men’s Short NBCSN | STREAM | SKATE ORDER
Friday 4-6:30 p.m. Short Dance NBCSN | STREAM
8-11 p.m. Women’s Free NBC | STREAM
Saturday 4-6 p.m. Pairs Free NBC | STREAM
8-11 p.m. Men’s Free NBCSN | STREAM
Sunday 3-6 p.m. Free Dance NBC | STREAM
Jan. 13 4 p.m. Exhibition Gala NBC | STREAM

Ashley Wagner, fickle field chase Olympics at figure skating nationals

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Next week, the U.S. women’s singles champion will be determined in San Jose.

The Olympic team of three women will also be decided by a committee behind the proverbial closed doors after the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Neither competition is easily predictable.

The marquee event of the Winter Olympics has also been the most chaotic for U.S. figure skating over the last year.

It starts with Ashley Wagner, as it usually does.

The three-time U.S. champion and 2016 World silver medalist struggled last season, her least successful campaign in six years.

This year hasn’t been better. At 26, she is the oldest woman in next week’s field by two years.

“I have not had a good season at all,” said Wagner, who would finish fourth next week if every skater repeats her best score from fall events. “It’s frustrating as an athlete to train as hard as I do every day and then go out to competition and kind of freeze.”

Wagner’s longtime rival, Gracie Gold, is sitting out this season to treat depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.

Three others outscored Wagner this fall — upstart Bradie Tennell, 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and training partner Mariah Bell.

A fourth, Karen Chen, was the top American at the two biggest events last season — nationals and worlds.

PREVIEWS: Men | Women | DancePairsTV Schedule | Olympic Selection

So, who is the favorite next week?

“That’s not an answer you’re going to get from me,” Nagasu said. “It’s not important to me.”

What is important is finishing in the top three, which in most cases would be enough to get on the Olympic team.

But the feeling is that not everything will be resolved after the free skate one week from Friday. That night could be a restless one for some skaters, before the team is expected to be announced the next morning.

Especially after what happened in 2014 — fourth-place Wagner getting on the Olympic team over third-place Nagasu — and the committee’s discretionary criteria.

Six skaters to watch next week:

Ashley Wagner
Three-time U.S. champion
2016 World silver medalist
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 4th

The only woman in the field with a world medal said she feels “dramatically better” after withdrawing during her Skate America free skate due to an ankle infection on Nov. 26.

She received an antibiotics injection and was out of skates for a week, which was followed by an announcement that she changed her free skate program from “Moulin Rouge!” to “La La Land.”

Wagner’s biggest challenge is a familiar one for U.S. women — under-rotated jumps. Judges docked her on seven of her 13 jumping passes in the fall Grand Prix season, but panels at U.S. Championships are generally more forgiving.

Wagner would be the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928.

Karen Chen
2017 U.S. champion
4th at 2017 World Championships
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 6th

Chen has this going for her: The selection committee is tasked to weigh the 2018 U.S. Championships results equally with the 2017 World Championships. Chen was fourth at worlds, three spots ahead of Wagner and eight spots ahead of Bell.

An argument can be made that if the Olympic team is chosen today, the 18-year-old Kristi Yamaguchi protegé should be the No. 1 selection.

But Chen hasn’t looked like an Olympian this season. She was seventh and eighth at her two Grand Prix starts and sixth out of six skaters at the free-skate only Japan Open, struggling with jumps and voicing nervousness of the added pressure with the Olympics ahead.

Her season’s best score is a whopping 21.3 points behind the U.S. leader Tennell but only 5.76 shy of the third-best American woman from the fall. It might not require much of an improvement to land on the podium in San Jose.

Mirai Nagasu
4th at 2010 Olympics
2008 U.S. champion
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 2nd

The sentimental favorite next week after being bumped off the three-woman 2014 Olympic team despite finishing third at those nationals.

Nagasu was once the phenom of U.S. women’s skating.

She won her only national title in 2008 at age 14. She was fourth at the 2010 Olympics and topped the 2010 World Championships short program over the likes of Yuna Kim and Mao Asada (Nagasu disintegrated in the free skate and was seventh).

She faded after that. Nagasu boasts longevity — top seven at nine of the last 10 nationals — but competed at one world championships since 2010 (as an injury replacement).

This season brought a spark in the form of a triple Axel. She landed the toughest jump in senior women’s skating twice in September, becoming the second American to do so in international competition after Tonya Harding. (Nagasu’s landings were imperfect, however, two-footed).

Given what happened four years ago, does Nagasu have to win to force the committee to put her on the team?

“I don’t necessarily feel like I have to win,” she said, adding that she hasn’t decided if this will be her last nationals. “I want to be top two, because that [Olympics] team event is something I really want to be part of.”

Nagasu spoke of fearlessness and not shying from risk.

“It’s time to go in for the kill,” she said.

Bradie Tennell
2017 Skate America bronze medalist
2015 U.S. junior champion
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 1st

Ninth at last season’s nationals. Best U.S. woman this season. The 19-year-old from suburban Chicago is the face of unpredictability in U.S. women’s skating.

Tennell went into Skate America on Thanksgiving weekend as the highest-scoring American this season. She recorded more personal bests there — at her first Grand Prix — for the bronze medal. Her total was the highest by a U.S. woman in international competition since Wagner’s silver at the March 2016 Worlds.

“I did my job,” Tennell said then. “I think I have [put myself in the Olympic conversation].”

Tennell received positive grades of execution on all 15 of her jumps at Skate America with zero under-rotations. That stood out among the top U.S. women who struggled in the air this year.

She went off the radar after winning the 2015 U.S. junior title. Tennell was reportedly slowed by stress fractures in her lower back later in 2015 and in 2016, which may explain the ninth at last season’s nationals.

Mariah Bell
2017 U.S. bronze medalist
12th at 2017 World Championships
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 3rd

Joined Wagner’s training group in August 2016. Broke out by taking silver behind Wagner at last season’s Skate America and bronze behind Chen and Wagner at nationals.

The 21-year-old said she struggled with nerves at last season’s worlds — where she was 12th in her debut. She placed sixth and ninth in her two Grand Prix starts this fall (jumping problems), but her best score from this season is bettered only by Tennell and Nagasu.

Polina Edmunds
2014, 2016 U.S. silver medalist
9th at 2014 Olympics
2017-18 U.S. ranking: 13th

The youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi hasn’t been the same since the 2016 nationals. She went 20 months between competitions, missing the entire 2016-17 season due to a bone bruise in her right foot.

The Santa Clara University student was 10th and 13th in her two international events this fall, scoring 30 and 40 points shy of her personal best.

Edmunds was the pleasant surprise of the 2014 U.S. Championships and will need an even bigger shock to make a second Olympic team.

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