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.

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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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Collin Morikawa jumps into projected Olympic golf field

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Collin Morikawa would not have qualified outright for the Tokyo Olympics had they been held this summer. Now, after winning the PGA Championship, he is third overall in global qualifying for the Tokyo Games in 2021.

Morikawa, a 23-year-old who took the same number of PGA Tour starts to win his maiden major as Tiger Woods (29), went from an alternate for the expected four-man U.S. Olympic team to No. 2 among Americans in the early qualifying standings, according to golf rankings guru @VC606 on Twitter.

Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed are the other Americans in qualifying position, according to @VC606.

Morikawa, whose father is of Japanese descent, turned professional in June 2019 and made his first 22 cuts, a feat bettered only by Woods.

The 23-year-old could become the youngest U.S. Olympic male golfer since 1904 (important note: golf was not part of the Olympic program from 1908 through 2012). Come next summer, he will still be younger than all but seven men from the Rio Olympic golf field of 60, according to Olympedia.org.

Olympic golf qualifying standings will fluctuate significantly. There are five major championships left in the qualifying window, starting with the U.S. Open in September and finishing with next summer’s U.S. Open, both airing on NBC Sports.

How tough will it be to make the U.S. Olympic team? Consider that the three Americans to win majors in 2019 — Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland — are currently not in Olympic qualifying position.

The U.S. has seven of the top nine in the Official World Golf Ranking, which is calculated differently than Olympic qualifying.

MORE: Nosferatu is golf’s Olympic rankings guru. Who is he?

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He controversially beat Roy Jones Jr. for Olympic gold. He wishes he had silver.

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The last South Korean boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has spent the past 32 years wishing it was a silver.

Entering the men’s light-middleweight final against an American teenager named Roy Jones Jr. on the last day of the 1988 Games in Seoul, Park Si-Hun fantasized about etching his name in the pantheon of South Korean sports legends in front of a delirious home crowd.

He did get his gold three rounds later, but not the way he envisioned.

Park’s win by a 3-2 decision remains as one of the most controversial moments in boxing history, as Jones had seemed to dominate the fight from start to finish.

The outcome drew instant criticism and disdain, even from South Koreans, who heckled Park at the podium and bombarded local TV stations with phone calls protesting that the country’s home advantage had gone too far.

Jones went on to have a phenomenal professional career, retiring in 2018 with a 66-9 record that cemented him as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is now a boxing commentator and is planning to fight Mike Tyson in an exhibition of retired greats later this year.

Deeply shaken and scarred, Park quietly retired at the end of the Seoul Games and spent the next 13 years as a middle- and high-school teacher in a rural seaside town before making a return to competitive boxing as a coach.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Park said his dream was to see one of his boxers pull off a convincing gold-winning performance in a future Olympics, which he said would possibly give him some sense of redemption and closure.

After three decades, it still stings that his gold is seen as a smudge on the image of the Games his country still glorifies as its coming-out party to the world.

“There’s hardened resentment built up in me that I will probably carry for the rest of my life,” said Park, 54, who now coaches the small municipal boxing team of Seogwipo City in the island province of Jeju.

“I didn’t want my hand to be raised (after the fight with Jones), but it did go up, and my life became gloomy because of that.”

Park still grimaces when talking about his match with Jones.

Desperate for Olympic glory, Park had gutted out the tournament with a broken right hand he suffered during training. He said it didn’t really matter until he met Jones, the one opponent in Seoul who was quicker than him.

With the injury taking away his right-hand, Park simply had no chance at slowing Jones, who was coming at him with “excellent speed, power and technique.”

“I was pretty quick for a middleweight, but Jones was at a different level,” Park recalled. “A boxer just knows whether he had won or lost a match. I thought I lost because I didn’t put up a fight deserving of a win.”

Park said he felt “confused” when the referee raised his hand. Wearing a stunned look on his face, Park awkwardly embraced and held up an expressionless Jones into the air.

He said he couldn’t wait to get off the podium, where he smiled weakly and slowly waved a bouquet of flowers toward the stands as fans let out hesitant cheers and scattered boos.

An even more humiliating moment came when a South Korean national broadcaster invited all of the country’s 12 gold medalists to a live TV celebration shortly after the Games. The host treated Park like he wasn’t there while interviewing each of the other 11.

There was an outpouring of media criticism and what Park described as “unspeakable” insults, which included derisive public calls for him to forfeit his medal.

The emotional distress “was like being hit with a hammer on the back of your head, again and again.”

“I keep thinking how my life would have been happier had I finished second,” Park said. “A gold medal is important, but isn’t any Olympic medal satisfying and glorious?”

Park said the sense of defeat and depression sometimes led to suicidal urges. He credits his wife for helping him navigate out of his darkest moods. The couple contemplated moving to a different country before deciding to stay after they had children.

Their youngest child, Rei, now a 20-year-old college student in Louisiana, has his own athletic ambitions, training as a javelin thrower with dreams of competing in the 2024 Olympics.

Park said he keeps his Olympic gold framed on a wall at his home in mainland South Korea, along with other awards he won in amateur competition. He doesn’t recall ever bringing it out of the house.

While Park doesn’t have many regrets about never going pro, saying he probably wouldn’t have gone far with an evasive style built for efficiency and avoiding hits but not for initiating pain, he still watched Jones’ post-Olympic triumphs with envy.

He wondered whether the public would ever forget the fiasco surrounding his gold medal, which the South Korean media brought up after almost every Jones fight or whenever there was controversy in any Olympic sport. He would try to laugh it off whenever students asked about his gold at school.

After overlooking him for years, South Korea’s boxing association reached back to Park in 2001, asking him to coach the national team following years of disappointing performances in international events, which reflected a dearth of talent in the sport.

During his on-and-off coaching stints with the national team since then, Park trained several boxers who performed decently in various events, but they never came close to an Olympic gold.

Park had the highest hopes for Lee Ok-Song, who won the men’s 51kg division in the 2005 World Championships. But Lee failed to reach the quarterfinals of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and retired after the Games.

Park said he had occasionally kept in touch with Jones, including a brief telephone conversation with him in 2004 while visiting Atlanta for an international event.

The International Olympic Committee in 1997 concluded it had found no evidence to support bribery allegations against the judges who voted in favor of Park in the Seoul Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee had called for an investigation in 1996 after documents belonging to East Germany’s Stasi secret police revealed reports of judges being paid to vote for South Korean boxers.

While Park left South Korea’s national team after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, he hasn’t given up on his goal of winning an Olympic gold as a coach.

Among the four boxers he trains in Seogwipo, Park is most impressed with Kang Hyeon-Bin, who competes in the men’s 64kg division, and Cho Hye-Bin, a woman in the 51kg category.

“I am constantly looking for a raw stone I could polish into a jewel,” he said. “I want to sculpt a true Olympic gold medalist with my own hands and see that fighter take the highest spot on the podium. That would restore my honor and allow me to leave the boxing ring for good.”

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