LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Bradie Tennell, ninth at last season’s nationals, is complicating the U.S. Olympic team picture.
The 19-year-old bettered the top Americans from last season — Ashley Wagner and Karen Chen — in the Skate America short program at the 1980 Winter Olympic venue on Saturday night.
“It’s a little surprising to me, too, because I think just believing in myself is one of my biggest obstacles,” Tennell said on NBCSN.
Tennell tallied 67.01 points — cleanly landing all her jumps, including a triple-triple combination — in her senior Grand Prix debut. Tennell was the top American at last season’s junior worlds in seventh place.
She is fourth going into Sunday’s free skate, trailing leader Satoko Miyahara of Japan by 3.71.
Wagner, who needs to win this event to qualify for December’s Grand Prix Final, under rotated two of her four jumps in her short program.
She’s in sixth place with 64.12 points, one year after winning Skate America. Wagner noted a recent ankle injury that cost her a week and a half of training.
“That program is a good example of how my ankle and my training has kind of affected me,” Wagner said on NBCSN. “Putting things together is a little bit of a challenge.
“My mentality is don’t lose too much in the short program. The long program is always where I plan on making up my points.”
Chen, who won nationals and was fourth at worlds last season, continued her struggles this season by falling hard on a triple loop. She scored 59.53 points for ninth.
“I landed forward, and before I knew it I was flat on my face,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I think I’ll wake up and discover a bunch of bruises. I don’t think I hit my head. A lot of people told me that I may have, but I’m pretty sure my face stayed off the ice, so that’s always a plus.”
The three-woman U.S. Olympic team — chosen based off results from the last year — will be announced after nationals in January.
Wagner and Chen came into this season as favorites to make it, but neither has been particularly impressive in the fall Grand Prix series. No other U.S. woman has put together two strong programs at one event, either.
Meanwhile, Tennell owns the top short program and free skate scores among Americans this season, but that free skate was from way back in September.
Earlier Saturday, Nathan Chen led a U.S. one-two in the men’s event but apologized.
Siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani topped the short dance with an American record 79.18 points.
The three-time world medalists will become the third U.S. couple to clinch a spot in the six-couple Grand Prix Final field with a top-four overall finish after Sunday’s free dance.
More importantly, they’ll go into the Grand Prix Final as the top-scoring U.S. couple this season if they tally 110.26 points in the free dance. The Shibutanis scored at least that high at their last seven international events.
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1. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 70.72
2. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) — 69.40
3. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN) — 68.08
4. Bradie Tennell (USA) — 67.01
6. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 64.12
9. Karen Chen (USA) — 59.53
1. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 79.18
2. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 72.70
3. Victoria Sinitsina / Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 68.72
7. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 62.15
8. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons (USA) — 58.36