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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PREVIEWS: Men | Women | DancePairsTV Schedule | Olympic Selection

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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