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Marvel superheroes inspire Bradie Tennell, Starr Andrews

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Bradie Tennell and Starr Andrews have something in common beyond their obvious figure skating talents: both skaters look to Marvel superheroes for inspiration.

The 20-year-old Tennell, who opened her 2018-19 international season with a big win over two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia at the Autumn International Classic in Oakville, Ontario, counts Iron Man and Spider-Man as her favorites.

Believe it or not, Iron Man – also known as Tony Stark – figures into Tennell’s free skate to “Romeo and Juliet.”

“After I land the triple salchow toward the end of my program, I go down on one knee and do what I call my Iron Man pose, because that’s what Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.) does in the first Avengers movie,” she said.

Summoning superhuman strength worked. Tennell had a personal-best free skate in Oakville. But in other ways, she’s the opposite of her hero: Iron Man survives his adventures largely be wearing a special suit of armor, while Tennell is all about dropping her guard this season and being more expressive on the ice.

“I believe in myself a lot more,” she said. “I don’t think I’m as timid. I’m really working on not being as shy, just kind of letting my personality come through in everything.”

Andrews, 17, is inspired by the noble and determined Black Panther, depicted in the 2018 film by Chadwick Boseman.

“There is always a challenge and you always have to fight to get what you want,” she said.

“I wanted something different this year, I definitely wanted no lyrics, and an African theme,” she added. “When I watched Black Panther, I said, ‘Yeah, I want something like (the music in) this’ and Derrick (Delmore) pulled up some music.”

Delmore, who coaches Andrews in Los Angeles, wracked his brain to find the right material. Ultimately, he choreographed her free to a medley he calls “African Tribal Xotica.”

“The music is from five different things,” he said. “She saw the movie, loved it, and sent me some music from that movie she cut herself that I didn’t love. She was inspired to do something in that genre. I finally thought of music I used a few years back for another skater, and I played it for her, and as soon as it came on she said, ‘Oh, this is what I want.’”

What Andrews wants now is a triple axel. She attempted the three-and-a-half revolution jump in her free skate in Oakville, but it was downgraded (judged short of rotation) by the technical panel. Still, she placed a respectable seventh in a tough international field.

“I’m excited for the day I get it,” Andrews said. “I just have to keep working on it. One day I will land it and will be super-confident and happy.  It’s not new to me, I’ve been working on it for a while. That little extra effort, and then I’ll land it.”

Only two other senior U.S. ladies – Tonya Harding, back in the early 1990s, and Mirai Nagasu at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February – have landed the jump in international competition, but Andrews believes it is becoming almost commonplace.  While Tennell and Andrews were competing in Oakville, Japanese teenager Rika Kihira landed two triple axels, including one in combination with a triple toe, at Ondrej Nepela Trophy.

“There are so many more people doing it know. I feel like it’s not surprising for women to do it,” Andrews said. “They are doing it in junior and even in advanced novice, like Alysa Liu (at the Asian Open), which was amazing.”

Delmore supports his student’s ambition, with a few caveats.

“Right now, I want her to get used to doing the axel,” he said. “I want it to be a regular part of her competitive experience, so she knows how to keep going when it doesn’t go well, and hopefully when she gets it, she knows what it’s like to have that amazing moment and to keep going.”

MORE: 12-year-old is third U.S. woman to land triple Axel internationally

Bradie Tennell matures from Cinderella — keeping AC/DC — in Skate America return

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Bradie Tennell is asked to recall one memory from 2017 Skate America.

“Standing at the door for free program and looking into the arena and saying to myself, oh, it feels a bit like nationals,” she said.

Tennell returns this week to the event where she broke out last season. Before 2017 Skate America, Tennell had never competed on the top senior international level. She had finished sixth and ninth at two nationals appearances, spending a summer in a back brace in between. She was the dark horse for the three-woman Olympic team.

Then Tennell went 15 for 15 on her jumps at Skate America at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Arena on Thanksgiving weekend. She earned a bronze medal with the highest score in any international competition by a U.S. woman in more than a year and half.

“I did my job,” Tennell said that day. “I think I have [put myself in the Olympic conversation].”

Tennell’s next three competitions were nationals (which she won) and the Olympics and world championships, where she was the top-placing American in ninth and sixth, respectively, albeit with uncharacteristic jumping errors.

She goes into this week’s Skate America — at the beginning of the Grand Prix series, rather than the end — as the clear American headliner in the marquee Winter Olympic event.

MORE: Skate America TV, stream schedule

Mirai NagasuAshley Wagner and Polina Edmunds aren’t competing this fall. Gracie Gold is coming back but hasn’t competed in nearly two years. The other active Olympian, Karen Chen, just withdrew from her first Grand Prix next month with a foot injury.

“I don’t really get nervous, per se,” Tennell said last week. “I think the only time that I am anything close to like anxious is right before my music starts. But last year I was so excited to be at my first Grand Prix, finally, after so much had happened in the past. That excitement carried over into my performances.”

Tennell’s goals this season, which she looks at daily with coach Denise Myers in suburban Chicago, include showing a grown-up look. Last season, Tennell’s teenage free skate was to “Cinderella.” This season, the 20-year-old chose “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I want this year’s Bradie to be very mature, very elegant, somebody who is almost unrecognizable from last year,” Tennell said in an interview with Skating magazine, for which she wore a black “New Kids on the Block” sleeveless T-shirt and plugged into a Sanyo Walkman for the cover photo shoot, an homage to her love of 1980s rock. 

Tennell used the Shakespearean tragedy to overtake Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia in her season debut at the Autumn Classic in Canada last month. The free-skate score ranks sixth in the world going into the Grand Prix series, trailing three Russians and two Japanese.

The challenge for Tennell and every top U.S. woman the last several years has been breaking into the top echelon of skaters from Russia and Japan.

“When she blew onto the scene, obviously, technically, she’s fantastic and so consistent [with jumps], which I think really sets her apart,” NBC Sports analyst Tara Lipinski said. “The effort [at Autumn Classic], the choices of music, her movement, choreography, intention behind each movement is, in my opinion, dramatically improved from last year. Is it at the same level as Yevgenia or [Olympic champion] Alina Zagitova? No. So I still think this is going to be a time of transformation for her over the next few seasons. But she’s off to a really, really strong start.”

Tennell also added the triple Lutz-triple loop combination, done only by Zagitova last season among the senior women.

Myers, who has coached Tennell since age 9, insists they don’t compare scores or even talk about placements.

“I don’t give that any thought,” said Tennell, whose pre-competition focus is on the likes of AC/DC, Journey and Foreigner on her 100-plus-song playlist. “I don’t focus on other people, who they are or what they’ve done.”

Then Tennell may not be dwelling on the fact that she could become the youngest U.S. woman to win Skate America since Kimmie Meissner in 2007. Neither Zagitova nor Medvedeva is in this week’s field in Everett, Wash. Neither is world champion Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada, who is taking the season off.

The top threats are Japanese Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto, who went one-two ahead of Tennell at 2017 Skate America. Tennell’s total score from Autumn Classic (206.41) beat those from Miyahara and Sakamoto in their late-summer events.

“You can tell that [Tennell] didn’t win the national title, go to the Olympics and is relaxing, easing into the next Olympic cycle,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said. “She’s out for blood.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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.

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MORE: Gracie Gold details ‘mental health crisis,’ return to skating

Watch ‘1968’ and ‘Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos’

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NBCSN airs “1968,” the NBC Olympics documentary on the Mexico City Games narrated by Serena Williams, followed by a 15-minute excerpt of “Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos” on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.

Both full programs can also be streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

“1968,” which premiered during the PyeongChang Winter Games, tells the stories not only of Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their black-gloved fists on the medal podium, but also of the intersections of sports and politics leading up to and during the Mexico City Olympics.

“Bring the Fire” focuses on Smith, Carlos and the podium gesture, featuring a conversation between NBC Sports track and field analyst Ato Boldon and Carlos.

STREAM LINK: “1968”
STREAM LINK: “Bring the Fire: A Conversation with John Carlos”

Then on Oct. 31, NBCSN premieres a two-hour special, “1968: The Legacy of the Mexico City Games,” at 8:30 p.m. ET. That show will include “1968,” along with a roundtable discussion about the legacy of the Mexico City Games.

Mike Tirico hosts a panel including Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad (the first Muslim-American woman to compete at the Olympics with a hijab), tennis player James Blake and Olympic champion diver Greg Louganis.

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MORE: John Carlos, Tommie Smith remember 1968 Olympics on 50th anniversary