Halfpipe podium points to sky in Sarah Burke tribute

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Serious history was made in many ways Thursday night when women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe debuted as a part of the Olympic program, but that’s only the beginning of it.

Maddie Bowman became the youngest American to win a gold medal during the Sochi Games.

France’s Marie Martinod put the capstone on her career by returning from retirement to take silver, which – when combined with the French sweep (the first time in Winter Olympic history) in ski cross – made for the most medals France had ever earned in a single day.

What was the most historical, though, was when the women on the podium pointed to the sky to pay tribute to Sarah Burke.

WATCH: Flower ceremony for freestyle halpipe

“Sarah Burke is watching over us tonight, and we just want to honor her as much as we can,” said Bowman, who first met her freeski idol at an X Games event years back.

This event was not about the evolution of tricks, the scores that were garnered or even the medals that were awarded. This event was about the feeling of the occasion and what it meant to the riders to be a part of something that was so important to their late friend.

Burke, four-time X Games champion, tragically passed while training only two years prior to her goal of Olympic inclusion being realized firsthand. Considered by her freeski colleagues to be the most pivotal person in ushering their sport into the Olympics, the night’s highs and lows were not due to the actual events that unfolded, but to the memories of Burke and the wish that she could have been a part of the event itself.

Leading into the Games, stickers were donned across the gear of the majority of the skiers, as well as a fair amount of their snowboarding counterparts. Burke was an inspiration to most and to ride with a “Celebrate Sarah” sticker meant to ride with pride.

However as the Games began, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) deemed the stickers to be a political statement and therefore illegal to promote on their equipment.

The point to the sky was a response that could not be stopped.

WATCH: Bowman’s gold-medal highlights

“I pointed to the sky because the IOC did not want us to wear [the stickers] on our helmets. So, we all decided we would point to the sky as a sign of respect for Sarah,” said Martinod, who was a dear friend to Burke.

Martinod has a unique story with relation to not only Burke, but as to how she ultimately came to be a part of Thursday’s event at all.

Years ago, Martinod had retired from the world of competitive skiing. In part because she had a daughter to take care of and be close to and “saw that life had some treasures” for her outside of skiing. Martinod opened a nightclub that she ran but sold last year just before returning to the World Cup circuit.

Why did she sell the nightclub and return to competitive skiing despite thinking she would never make such a return? Because Burke asked her to.

“[Sarah] had this contest in La Plagne [France] next to my place and after the contest she passed by,” reminisced Martinod. “She said, ‘Marie I just want you to know that I’m working [getting halfpipe] into the Olympics. It’s going to happen, for sure, and you should think about coming back.’ That was the last time that I saw her.”

Burke passed away only a matter of months after that.

“I did what she wanted me to do.”

The story of Burke is one that will never be forgotten in the hearts of these Winter Olympians, and the symbolic gesture of pointing to the sky was something that should go down in Olympic history as a story for the ages.

Celebrate Sarah.

Bradie Tennell trails at Skate America after rare error

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Bradie Tennell burst onto the podium at 2017 Skate America by nailing all 15 of her jumps. She missed on her first jumping pass at the same event Saturday and sits in fifth place going into Sunday’s free skate.

Japan’s Satoko Miyahara topped the short program with 73.86 points, looking to be the first woman since Yuna Kim to repeat as Skate America champion. Countrywoman Kaori Sakomoto, runner-up at last year’s Skate America, is again in second place, 2.57 behind.

Tennell, the U.S. champion and top American at the Olympics (ninth) and worlds (sixth), trails by 12.14.

She struggled with her opening triple Lutz-triple loop combination, managing just a single loop on the back end. It’s a new combo for the 20-year-old, one that only Olympic champion Alina Zagitova performed last season among senior women.

“It’s very, very rarely does that happen,” Tennell told Andrea Joyce on NBC Sports Gold. “I think I just hesitated a little bit, but these things happen. We’re all human. It’s not going to happen tomorrow.”

The Skate America free skate airs live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Sunday.

SKATE AMERICA: Full Results | TV Schedule

Tennell is the marquee U.S. female skater of the moment. Olympians Ashley WagnerPolina Edmunds and Mirai Nagasu are taking the Grand Prix season off. Gracie Gold is coming back in two weeks but hasn’t competed in nearly two years. The other active Olympian, Karen Chen, just withdrew from her first Grand Prix next month with a foot injury.

Only ardent skating fans knew of Tennell at this time last year.

She had been sixth and ninth at the previous two U.S. Championships and wouldn’t make her Grand Prix debut until last season’s Skate America on Thanksgiving weekend. There, she posted the top score by a U.S. woman in a year and a half, earned bronze and became a clear favorite to make the three-woman Olympic team.

Though Tennell made uncharacteristic jumping errors in PyeongChang and at worlds, she opened this season by beating Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia at a lower-level event in Canada last month.

Medvedeva and Zagitova make their Grand Prix season debuts the next two weeks.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

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MORE: Starr Andrews, next leading U.S. woman?

Nathan Chen wins Skate America by largest margin in history

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Nathan Chen scaled back the quadruple jumps, yet still won Skate America by the largest margin in the event’s history.

Chen, on a fall recess from Yale freshman classes, totaled 280.57 points between Friday’s short program and Saturday’s free skate, prevailing by 41.06 points over a field lacking any other Olympic or world medalists. It’s the largest gap in any discipline at Skate America under the 16-year-old points system.

It’s also the world’s top score on the young season. Yet Chen attempted four quads total in Everett, Wash., down from the eight he tried at the Olympics, to ease into the season.

“It’s a great start for me,” Chen told Andrea Joyce on NBCSN after landing three quads in a clean free skate. “I definitely had sort of lower expectations coming into this event, just because I’m in a completely new situation in life. … Watered down my programs a little bit, but I think it was definitely appropriate.”

Chen was a disappointing fifth in PyeongChang, then won the world title a month later by the largest margin in history.

With Saturday’s victory, Chen tied the U.S. men’s record of four Grand Prix series titles (Jeremy AbbottTodd EldredgeJohnny Weir, though Eldredge won more Grand Prix-level events before the series debuted in 1995).

The 19-year-old flies back to New Haven for school, returning to the Grand Prix during Thanksgiving break for Internationaux de France. That field includes two-time world bronze medalist Jin Boyang of China and Jason Brown, the top American from the Sochi Olympics.

Chen’s biggest competition are Japanese Olympic gold and silver medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno. He would not face them until December’s Grand Prix Final at the earliest.

U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, sixth at the Olympics, was fifth at Skate America. The 17-year-old landed five quads between two programs but was dinged for several under-rotations.

Skate America continues later Saturday with the women’s short program, featuring U.S. champion Bradie Tennell.

SKATE AMERICA: Full Results | TV Schedule

Earlier Saturday, Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov won the pairs’ title by the largest margin at a Grand Prix in four years. The two-time world medalists totaled 204.85 points — 25.87 ahead of fellow Russians Alisa Efimova and Aleksandr Korovin — and topped the free skate by 16.27.

Tarasova and Morozov were fourth in PyeongChang but are the top returning active pair. None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are competing in a Grand Prix.

Germans Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot are on an indefinite break. Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong haven’t competed since the Games with Sui recovering from a stress fracture in her foot. Bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada retired.

Americans finished third (Ashley Cain, Timothy LeDuc), fourth (Olympians Alexa Scimeca Knierim, Chris Knierim) and sixth (Nica Digerness, Danny Neudecker), extending a drought of 12 years without a Grand Prix title for a U.S. pair.

The three teams combined for falls in five of their six programs. After, the Knierims said they split from coach Savchenko.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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!

MORE: Starr Andrews, next leading U.S. woman?