Surprising U.S. results in Skate America short program (video)

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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.

MORE: Full Results | Figure Skating TV Schedule

“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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MORE: Ashley Wagner’s pain not limited to Olympic years

Skate America
Women’s Short
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

Short Dance
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

WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

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. 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.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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