Bradie Tennell becomes Olympic contender at Skate America (video)

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Calling 19-year-old Bradie Tennell a contender to make the Olympic team does not do her justice anymore. She performed like a favorite at Skate America this weekend.

In her senior Grand Prix debut, Tennell earned bronze in Lake Placid, N.Y., with 204.10 points, the highest score by a U.S. woman in international competition since the March 2016 World Championships.

“I was speechless,” Tennell said on NBC. “I still can’t believe it.

“I’m still shaking.”

She shared a podium with Japanese Satoko Miyahara (214.03) and Kaori Sakamoto (210.59).

MORE: Full Results | Figure Skating TV Schedule

Tennell, the 2015 U.S. junior champion, was ninth at last season’s senior nationals after reportedly being slowed by stress fractures in her lower back since May 2015.

She was still young enough for March’s junior worlds, where she was sent and finished seventh.

Tennell then impressed enough in a closed-door U.S. Figure Skating camp in August to earn the third and final American spot in the Skate America field.

“I haven’t been able to train consistently,” in past seasons, Tennell said. “This year, I’ve really been able to kind of get back into the flow of things. I feel like that’s shown in how I’m skating.”

She joined Ashley Wagner and Karen Chen, the top two U.S. women last season, in Lake Placid, openly questioning her confidence on this stage.

Unaccomplished. Unfazed. Tennell outperformed both U.S. champions (though Wagner withdrew during her free skate with an ankle injury, more on that here).

Tennell received positive grades of execution on all 15 of her jumps between two programs. With zero under rotations.

Her score is not Olympic medal caliber, but none of the U.S. women have impressed this season. Tennell is the top U.S. woman in the world rankings this season in 12th place.

The Olympic team will be chosen by a committee, based not only on nationals results but by performances in major competition from the last year.

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

If Tennell repeats her Skate America performances at U.S. Champs, even with a lack of senior international experience, she’s likely headed to PyeongChang.

Unthinkable even a few months ago.

“I’m just going to go there and do what I know how to do and, you know, let the chips fall where they may,” she said.

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VIDEO: Skater dislocates shoulder in Skate America fall

Top U.S. women’s scores this season
Bradie Tennell — 204.10
Mirai Nagasu — 194.46
Mariah Bell — 188.56
Ashley Wagner — 183.94
Angela Wang — 183.85
Karen Chen — 182.80

Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.