Bradie Tennell tops nationals short program; Ashley Wagner in danger

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Rising star Bradie Tennell broke the U.S. Championships short program record with 73.79 points on Wednesday and looks destined for the Olympics.

Ashley Wagner sits a tenuous fifth (65.94) going into Friday’s free skate, which will determine the three-woman team for PyeongChang. She voiced satisfaction.

“This program has been a nightmare for me this entire international season,” Wagner said, adding that this might be her last U.S. Championships. “I’m a long program skater, and that’s where I make my money. So, not too far behind.”

In between Tennell and Wagner are 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu (73.09), 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen (69.48) and surprise Angela Wang in fourth (67.00) in San Jose, Calif.

If those standings hold Friday, Wagner would again have to rely on a selection committee to put her on the Olympic team over a higher-scoring skater.

Wagner placed fourth at 2014 Nationals and was put on the three-woman Olympic team over third-place Nagasu. The selection committee looks at results not just from nationals but from the last year of competitions.

The free skate is Friday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and streaming on NBCOlympics.com. The Olympic team of three women — again, not necessarily the top three at nationals — will be announced Saturday at 8 a.m. ET.

NATIONALS: Full Results | TV Schedule

Tennell, the 2015 U.S. junior champion with a best senior nationals finish of sixth, burst onto the scene this season with the top two international scores by a U.S. woman.

There was concern whether Tennell could rise to the occasion Wednesday, but she nailed it again. She landed all of her jumps clean, including two of the three passes in the second half for a 10 percent bonus.

“I kind of just ignored the whole Olympics aspect of it and just skated how I know how,” she said on NBCSN.

Tennell took bronze at November’s Skate America, outscoring Wagner and Chen with positive grades of execution on all 15 of her jumps and zero under-rotations. Every other top U.S. woman has struggled with jumps.

Tennell’s score at Skate America was the highest by a U.S. woman in international competition since Wagner’s silver medal at the April 2016 World Championships.

But it puts her 14th in this season’s world rankings, well behind the Olympic medal contenders from Russia, Canada, Italy and Japan.

Tennell, a 19-year-old from the Chicago area, may have ascended earlier if not for microfractures in one of the vertebrae in her back. She was off the ice for about three months – roughly all of summer 2016.

Nagasu, fourth place at the 2010 Olympics, seeks her first national title since she won it at age 14 in 2008.

She added the triple Axel this season, becoming the third U.S. woman to land the jump after Tonya Harding and Kimmie Meissner.

Nagasu’s triple Axel landing Wednesday was a mess, but she received credit for the jump. She and Tennell both went above the U.S. Championships short program record set by Chen last season.

A podium finish Friday should be enough to get Nagasu to the Winter Games, though it was not enough four years ago.

Chen is pleased with third place after a rough fall season where she ranked sixth among American women in international events. With her 2017 U.S. title and fourth-place finish at last season’s worlds, she came to San Jose with the top resume according to Olympic selection criteria.

“It’s literally a stock market,” Chen said Wednesday. “There’s ups, downs, and it’s, like, unpredictable.”

Wang, 21, provided a stunning performance for fourth on Wednesday. In six nationals appearances, her best result was seventh last year. Wang may need to win on Friday to be put on the Olympic team, though.

Then there’s Wagner, competing for the first time since pulling out of her Skate America free skate on Thanksgiving weekend with an ankle infection.

The three-time U.S. champion was dinged for under-rotating the second half of her triple-triple combination Wednesday.

Wagner would have a very strong argument to be put on the Olympic team over a higher-scoring Wang, but not Chen. She has largely struggled since taking silver at the 2016 World Championships.

“In years past I’ve been a clear frontrunner internationally,” she said. “I’m in no way, shape or form expecting to rely on my past experience to say whether or not I deserve to be on this team.”

Gracie Gold, the top U.S. woman in Sochi, is sitting out nationals after receiving treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. Gold is in San Jose to support the competing skaters.

The third 2014 U.S. Olympian, Polina Edmunds, is in seventh place with 63.78 points, though she landed all her jumps.

Edmunds, the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi, struggled this season after missing all of 2016-17 following a bone bruise in her right foot.

Mariah Bell, the 2017 U.S. bronze medalist, stepped out of a landing of her opening triple-triple jump combination. She’s in sixth with 65.18 points.

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Olympic flame to travel by sea for Paris 2024, welcomed by armada

Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
Paris 2024
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The Olympic flame will travel from Athens to Marseille by ship in spring 2024 to begin the France portion of the torch relay that ends in Paris on July 26, 2024.

The torch relay always begins in the ancient Olympic site of Olympia, Greece, where the sun’s rays light the flame. It will be passed by torch until it reaches Athens.

It will then cross the Mediterranean Sea aboard the Belem, a three-masted ship, “reminiscent of a true Homeric epic,” according to Paris 2024. It will arrive at the Old Port of Marseille, welcomed by an armada of boats.

Marseille is a former Greek colony and the oldest city in France. It will host sailing and some soccer matches during the Paris Olympics.

The full 2024 Olympic torch relay route will be unveiled in May.

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Paris 2024 Olympic Torch Relay Marseille
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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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