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.
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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