Bradie Tennell leads Olympic figure skating team; Ashley Wagner left off

2 Comments

U.S. champion Bradie TennellMirai Nagasu and Karen Chen are going to PyeongChang. Ashley Wagner was left off the Olympic team.

A U.S. Figure Skating committee chose the three-woman Olympic team after the national championships free skate on Friday night.

The committee went with the top three finishers from nationals, though it could have strayed based on this criteria. Wagner was fourth and one of three Olympic alternates.

Tennell, 19, leads the team after winning her first senior national title as part of a breakout season.

The Chicagoland native was nearly flawless with jumps in San Jose, topping the short program and free skate one year after placing ninth at nationals.

“I knew it was an Olympic year, and I knew that somebody has to go, so I just kind of kept it in the back of my mind all season,” Tennell, who missed six months between the last two years due to back injuries, said Friday night. “The first time it entered my mind was when I won my junior title back in 2015, and probably the reason I thought that is that a lot of previous Olympic team members have won junior titles, so I thought, ‘Ooh, this is the first step to making the Olympics.’”

Tennell is the top U.S. woman overall this season, ranking 14th in the world. A U.S. women’s medal in PyeongChang against the top skaters from Russia, Japan, Canada and Italy would be a tall ask.

Nagasu is going back to the Olympics eight years after she finished fourth in Vancouver and 10 years after her national title as a 14-year-old.

Nagasu bawled Friday night, and for good reason.

She was tearfully left off the 2014 Olympic team of three women, despite finishing third at nationals. A committee put fourth-place Wagner on the Sochi team because of the aforementioned criteria.

“I’m aware that I’m the oldest here tonight, but I really feel like the comeback kid,” Nagasu, whose two programs at nationals were highlighted by triple Axels (though with messy landings), said Friday night. “I cannot wait for the decision to come out because I cannot wait to be that 5-year-old girl who began this journey.”

Chen, the youngest team member at 18, edged Wagner for bronze by 2.4 points on Friday night.

The 2017 U.S. champion and fourth-place finisher at 2017 Worlds said she was bedridden by sickness all Thursday.

“I’m just so proud of myself that I was able to forget about all the pain I was in and just keep reminding myself that I trained so hard for this moment and I’m not going to let some stupid sickness win,” Chen said.

Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion and the only American woman to win an individual Olympic or world medal in the last decade.

The 2016 World silver medalist tried to rally from a fifth-place short program with a brand-new free skate to “La La Land” but struggled with jumps and was given lower-than-usual artistic scores overall.

Afterward, Wagner said she was underscored and criticized judges (video here). She said she deserved to be put on the team like she was in 2014.

U.S. Figure Skating president Sam Auxier disagreed and said the 13 committee members’ decision was unanimous.

“We’d be having a different conversation if she had done a clean [triple-triple] combination in the short and hit the level four spin [in the free skate],” said Auxier, who was part of the committee. “She’s a great athlete, and hopefully she will stay in the sport.”

The committee looked at results from the last year in picking the team, and Wagner is coming off her two worst seasons in several years. Chen’s better results from 2017 Nationals and Worlds boosted her case.

“Clearly, Bradie and Mirai with their scores and their performances were easy one and two,” Auxier said. “The discussion between Karen and Ashley was pretty academic. Karen was fourth at worlds last year; Ashley seventh. Then third versus fourth at this U.S. Championships. So it was very straightforward, clear criteria for selecting Karen as the third member of the team.”

Wagner was named to the team for the Four Continents Championships in three weeks.

“As an athlete, I’m allowed to be mad,” was posted on Wagner’s social media after the Olympic team was named. “As a senior competitor with over 10 years of experience, I’m allowed to question things. At the end of the day, I laid out my best and I’m going home proud! Congrats to the lovely ladies of the team, you’ve got me in your cheering squad now!”

The U.S. Championships continue Saturday with the pairs’ and men’s free skates. A full broadcast schedule is here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. athletes qualified for PyeongChang Olympics

Coco Gauff eliminated from Australian Open by Sofia Kenin

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Coco Gauff‘s run at the Australian Open ended in the round of 16, foiled by fellow American Sofia Kenin on Sunday.

Kenin ousted the 15-year-old phenom 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Gauff, too, was bidding for her first major quarterfinal after a sterling seven months ignited by her march to the Wimbledon fourth round.

Gauff, ranked No. 684 this time last year, will near the top 50 after the Australian Open. She beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon and the Australian Open and took out defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka in the third round on Friday.

Gauff’s play catapulted her to fifth in U.S. Olympic singles qualifying, but she has half the points as fourth-place Madison Keys, and a country can’t qualify more than four players in singles. The Olympic field will be determined by the WTA rankings after the French Open in June.

The 14th seed Kenin, who beat Serena Williams in the 2019 French Open third round, ranks second behind Williams in U.S. Olympic qualifying. She will face No. 27 Wang Qiang or Ons Jabeur in the quarterfinals.

Kenin and Alison Riske are the two remaining U.S. women in the draw.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Jessica Calalang, Brian Johnson produce the pairs’ moment of figure skating nationals

AP
Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. – This fall season, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson ranked fifth among American pairs but finished with silver medals at the U.S. Championships on Saturday night.

After a fifth-place nationals finish last year, their goal was just to be on the podium in Greensboro.

In their second year together, Calalang and Johnson won the free skate with 146.01 points for a total score of 213.57. It was good enough for second place, as the eventual winners, Alexa Knierim and Chris Knierim, held a 10-point lead over their training partners from the short program.

“While Brian and Chris are working on cars, Jess and I are having lattes petting cats,” Alexa said in a press conference. “We have a great dynamic and I couldn’t be prouder of them for the way they skated. I watched them backstage just because I genuinely care for them.”

Calalang and Johnson vaulted to second from fourth place after short, when Johnson fell on the side-by-side triple Salchows.

In the free skate, however, they received positive grades of execution on every element. The crowd inside the Greensboro Coliseum was on their feet before the music (“You are the Reason” by Calum Scott and Leona Lewis) even finished.

“I don’t think either of us have had that kind of performance at a U.S. Championships,” Calalang said.

“I definitely haven’t,” Johnson added. “The amount of audience support that I felt at the very end of that program was overwhelming. It was the most amazing thing I’ve felt on the ice. I don’t have words to describe it.”

Now, they could join the Knierims at the world championships in March. The U.S. has two berths to worlds, up from one last year. U.S. Figure Skating chooses the teams, not necessarily (but usually) following nationals standings.

Calalang and Johnson have no world championships experience, either together or with former partners, although they have had plenty of experience this season.

They kicked it off with a sixth-place finish at a lower-level event, followed by their Grand Prix debut at Skate America. They finished just off the podium in fourth. The following week, they were sixth at Skate Canada. They handily won the Warsaw Cup, another lower-level event this fall.

“Repetition always helps,” Johnson said. “The more experience you can get, hopefully the better you’re gonna be doing. It was great doing the Grand Prixes because we had an amazing audience at Skate America and Skate Canada. The whole place was sold-out. I think that really resembles here as well with everybody loving what you’re doing and the whole support base.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

NATIONALS: TV/Live Stream 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.