Ashley Caldwell

Ashley Caldwell flies into Bird’s Nest after two years away

Leave a comment

The setting won’t be the only story when Beijing’s Bird’s Nest hosts an aerials skiing World Cup this weekend.

American Ashley Caldwell will set up some 200 feet above the ground of the stadium that hosted the epic 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony on Saturday. She will set up parallel to its polymer membrane, glide down a hill and launch off a ramp five stories into the air, flip twice and twist three times. She will land, cleanly, she believes.

It hasn’t always followed that flight plan.

Caldwell, 20, tore her right ACL landing on Dec. 22, 2011, in Park City, Utah. She tore her left ACL landing on Dec. 20, 2012, in Park City, Utah.

She competed for the first time in nearly two years last week in Beida Lake, China, and took second in the season-opening World Cup event.

“It was a long two years,” Caldwell said after visiting the Bird’s Nest on Friday. “I always dream big, but I kind of wasn’t really focused too much on actual results.”

She was more set on landing a new trick. Caldwell is performing “doubles,” flipping twice in the air with one or two twists on each flip, with an eye on doing triples at the Olympics. It will likely take a triple to make the podium in Sochi.

Triples were the plan as far back as February 2011, 10 months before she suffered the first of those two major physical and mental setbacks.

“The first time around, it was really rough,” said Caldwell, who rehabbed, blogged and watched copious amounts of “House” and “Grey’s Anatomy” the last two years. “Both times were extremely rough, but I’ve seen numerous athletes come back from ACL injuries stronger. I just made sure I focused on little gradual steps in the process, little accomplishments.

“The second time around it was rough because I worked really hard. I was ready. I was strong and confident. Then I get injured again. I’m like, this is so unfair. I just did this.”

Caldwell said she never considered giving up her sport. She also stayed dedicated academically.

“When I got injured, the first thing I did was schedule surgery,” she said. “The second thing I did was I signed up for more classes.”

She moved from Lake Placid, N.Y., to Park City, Utah, nannied and completed her undergraduate degree in finance from Empire State College online. The fall term ended Friday.

Her return silver medal last week was extraordinary given not only Caldwell’s injury history but also the balance of power in the sport. The U.S. has not won an Olympic or World Championships medal in women’s aerials since 1999, its longest drought in any freestyle skiing event.

China has come to dominate aerials, a sport suited to athletes with gymnastics backgrounds. Caldwell, a former gymnast herself, was the only non-Chinese in the top five last week.

“The Chinese are phenomenal athletes, but there are a lot of athletes on any given day that can land a jump that can beat the Chinese,” said Caldwell, who is surely one of them. “Our sport is very humbling because it’s so difficult. It takes a really good landed jump to win. We fall a lot. It’s something we do. In our sport, anybody can fall at any time.”

Caldwell is halfway to qualifying for Sochi, which she hoped would be her first Olympics when she took up the sport seven years ago after 10 years of tumbling. Caldwell saw aerials for the first time watching the 2006 Olympics on TV at age 12.

She started skiing at 13, moved out of her parents’ Virginia house to Lake Placid at 14 and surprised by earning a place on the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team at 16, the youngest athlete among a delegation of more than 210.

In Vancouver, Caldwell impressed by making the 12-woman final out of 23 qualifying competitors and finishing 10th overall. She could secure her trip to Sochi on Saturday at the Bird’s Nest, a venue she gushed over after training Friday.

“It is the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” said Caldwell, one of 10 U.S. aerialists to compete this weekend. “Well, I guess the Olympics are the coolest event. This is the coolest venue. The scaffolding site takes up the entire length of the field. When we’re at the top, we’re at the top of the stadium. It’s unbelievable. It’s so cool.

“We’re in downtown Beijing in like a sweet hotel within walking distance to the Bird’s Nest. There’s a huge concert stage [inside]. We’re going to look like rock stars.”

Tongan luger set to be nation’s first Winter Olympian

Bradie Tennell’s personality shines through at Skate America

Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS — At Skate America on Friday night, fans got a glimpse of the “real” Bradie Tennell — strong, smart, funny; a little salty, but a little sweet.

Performing a short program set to a fast-paced medley of Kirrill Richter’s staccato piano compositions, Tennell practically gave off sparks while unleashing a solid triple Lutz, triple toe loop combination, liquid spins and her best steps ever.

The Las Vegas crowd gave her a standing ovation and so did the judges, who awarded the 2019 U.S. national silver medalist a personal best 75.10 points.

For the first time ever, Tennell leads a Grand Prix event, taking a 1.85-point advantage into Saturday’s free skate.

“I went out with the mindset to do it like I do every day in practice, no better but certainly no worse,” she said.

The 21-year-old skater, who grabbed attention with a surprising bronze medal at 2017 Skate America and went on to win the 2018 U.S. title, hasn’t always revealed as much of herself in interviews as some of her peers. She’s mostly been content with doing her job on the ice, and last season placed a solid seventh at the world championships.

“I think (this program) just allows me to show the side of myself that I am off the ice with my family, a little bit more sarcastic, a little bit funny,” Tennell said. “It’s almost like an onion when you peel back the layers. To show this program is a challenge for me but it’s a challenge I welcome.”

Longtime coach Denise Myers, who trains Tennell in the Chicago area, likes the new lens the program creates.

“Brady is a fun-loving personality that maybe now the world is getting to see a little better,” Myers said. “No surprise to me.”

The electricity Tennell ignited on Friday proves that when a skater loves her material, magic can happen. This isn’t the program Tennell and choreographer Benoit Richaud intended to use. An earlier routine, choreographed in May, failed to inspire the skater. When she saw Richaud at a training camp in Courchevel, France in June, she asked him to try again.

“So then he puts up this music and I’m like, ‘What is this, this is so cool, this is my music, let’s start now,’” Tennell recalled. “I was so excited to find this piece of music and use it…. Yeah, I love this program.”

Skate America is Tennell’s first competition of the season; a fractured bone in her right foot forced her to withdraw from a Challenger Series’ event in Canada last month. The injury kept her off of the ice for much of the summer, and when she attended U.S. Figure Skating’s Champ Camp in late August, she was wearing a protective boot.

“Before my injury, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have pain on the ice with my feet,” Tennell said. “It felt really bad at the beginning of July, and then it started to get progressively worse really quickly. So I went to the doctor and got some scans done, and they said, ‘Yeah, you’ve got a break in the bone there.’”

About a month ago, Tennell returned to full training, resolving to make up for lost time.

“That’s just her determination,” Myers said. “You have to listen to what your body is saying. She’s just very determined to have a successful season.”

MORE: How to watch Skate America

Tennell’s free skate, also choreographed by Richaud, is set to music from the romantic 1988 film Cinema Paradiso.

“It’s a totally different feel, that’s what’s so exciting about this year,” Myers said. “The short is a little sassier, a little more mature, and the other program is so soft and feminine.”

It will take every ounce of Tennell’s mettle to stay on the Skate America podium. Japanese skaters Kaori Sakamoto and Wakaba Higuchi, both powerhouse jumpers, are close behind in second and third place. Russian teen Anna Shcherbakova sits fourth with 67.60 points and can make up the deficit if she lands the quadruple Lutz she showed at a Challenger event in Italy last month. In practices in Las Vegas, Shcherbakova has included two quad lutzes in her run-throughs. More on the results of the ladies’ short program from Friday evening in Las Vegas here.

MORE: Nathan Chen hopes to hip hop his way to Skate America crown

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Bradie Tennell leads Skate America field after Russians falter

Leave a comment

Bradie Tennell‘s bronze medal at 2017 Skate America propelled her to a national title and a place on the PyeongChang Olympic team in 2018.

At Skate America on Friday evening in Las Vegas, Tennell outpaced the ladies’ field by 1.85 points, scoring 75.10 points — her best-ever short program score. Tennell opened her program with a triple Lutz, triple toe combination, followed by a double Axel and a triple flip. What could a win at her first Grand Prix event of the season set up for the 2019-20 year? Time will tell.

“I went out there with the mindset of doing what I do everyday in practice and not trying to make anything any better or certainly any worse,” Tennell said through U.S. Figure Skating. “I wanted to enjoy myself, be relaxed and perform. The ice is my safe space. It’s where I feel most at home… It’s almost like an onion. You have to peel back the layers, and that’s almost what I’m doing with my skating now. To show this program is a challenge for me but one that I welcome.”

MORE: Tennell’s personality shines through at Skate America

Her closest competitor, Kaori Sakamoto from Japan, tallied 73.25 points after skating to Alice Merton’s “No Roots.” Sakamoto has won the silver medal at Skate America for the past two seasons.

Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi skated to another pop song, Sia’s “Bird Set Free,” and scored 71.76 points. She’s in third place heading into Saturday’s free skate.

Skate America results are here.

The standings are a surprising twist, as many pinned Russian skaters Anna Shcherbakova and Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva to be inside the top three after the short program.

In her senior Grand Prix debut, Shcherbakova slipped and fell in her step sequence and accrued a mandatory one-point deduction. She still tallied 67.60 points, good enough for fourth place on Friday evening.

Expect to see quadruple jumps from Shcherbakova in Saturday’s free skate. She trains under Moscow-based coach Eteri Tutberidze alongside a host of burgeoning Russian skaters, including reigning world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova.

Meanwhile, Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion, sits in fifth place behind Shcherbakova by a slim 0.32 points. While her triple Axel was awarded positive Grades of Execution, her triple Lutz was called under-rotated.

2017 national champion Karen Chen returned to major international competition after being away for more than a year due to injury. The Cornell freshman finished her short program in sixth place with 66.03 points.

“There were definitely nerves,” Chen said of her return to competition. “This year is my comeback year, and so I wanted to make it count, but at the same time I know that I’m throwing a lot of things out there, like I’m skating and I’m also going to school. It’s been tough balancing, but I do really enjoy it and I think it’s the right decision.”

The third American in the field, Amber Glenn, is seventh with 64.71 points.

MORE: How to watch Skate America

In ice dance Friday night, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue have high hopes of keeping the U.S.’ winning streak alive at Skate America. After Saturday’s free dance, the Montreal-trained team could extend U.S. ice dancers’ win streak to 11. They won this event last year, too.

Hubbell and Donohue skated to a Marilyn Monroe medley — including “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” which Hubbell admitted to wanting to skate to since the 2014 season — to score 84.97 points.*

“I feel like we have so much progress to make on the program, but it was a really great performance for today,” Hubbell said through U.S. Figure Skating. “It was really exciting for me to debut the Marilyn Monroe character. It’s something I have dreamed about skating to for many years, so it was great to actualize that here in Las Vegas.”

Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia sit close behind with 81.91 points, after a rhythm dance set to “Sparkling Diamonds” and “Your Song” from Moulin Rouge. The Russian duo were fourth behind Hubbell and Donohue at the 2019 World Championships, and Stepanova recently returned from a back injury. Canada’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen performed their rhythm dance to selections from “Bonnie & Clyde” and placed third with 79.17 points.

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko landed in sixth place after the rhythm dance with 70.41 points. The third American dance team in the field, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, were eighth with 67.97 points after the rhythm dance in their Grand Prix debut. They’re a brand new team this season; Green formerly danced with her brother and Parsons was previously partnered with his sister.

“I feel that so far we have adapted really well to the new partnership,” Green said. “I think that we have a good trust with each other. Maybe it is not quite as natural as it was with our siblings, but I definitely think we are in a good place and this has the potential to be even a little higher.”

“I had a long career with my sister and it does feel strange to be at a competition like this without her, but I think I’m really lucky in the fact that I can use all the experiences I had with her to learn from, to teach Caroline and to build on this new partnership,” Parsons added.

*Editor’s Note: Due to a calculation error on the element “Pattern Dance Type Step Sequence” (PSt), the Rhythm Dance (RD) scores at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating event Skate America had to be re-calculated for all skaters. The revised results and details are published with the corrected scores. The overall RD standing did not change. They are correct in this article as of 10 a.m. Saturday. 

Friday afternoon, Nathan Chen was the only men’s skater to break the 100-point barrier. More on the men’s and pairs’ short program here.

MORE: Hubbell, Donohue already thinking about worlds in Montreal

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!