Defending champ Bradie Tennell leads ladies’ short program at U.S. Championships

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DETROIT – The champ held off the phenom.

With her best short program of an inconsistent season, a performance that got stronger as it went along, defending champion Bradie Tennell took command of the U.S. Championships on Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena.

“There have been bright spots and not so bright spots,” Tennell said of her season leading up to nationals. “I’m just cranking away at my programs and the daily grind.”

She ground through the first part of this one, then took flight in the second half, flying unfettered across the ice and still remaining in full control of her final two jumps and two spins.

The result was a flawless 2-minutes, 50 seconds and 76.60 points, giving Tennell, 20, a lead of 2.71 points over Alysa Liu, the 13-year-old expected to take command of U.S. women’s skating in the near future.

“I just enjoyed my performance,” Tennell said. “There really wasn’t thinking involved. I just kind of went on autopilot and got into the zone.”

Results: Ladies’ short program

Liu, last season’s U.S. junior champion, became the first woman to land a triple Axel in the short program at nationals and drew a standing ovation after a program in which the only flaw was an underrotated second jump in her triple Lutz, triple toe combination.

The 4-foot, 7-inch Liu was not overwhelmed by the big stage but was overcome by how well she handled it.  She burst into tears before taking her bows.

“I was really happy,” Liu said of her emotional outpouring.

MORE: How to watch U.S. Championships

Mariah Bell, considered a title contender for the first time in her career, needed perfection to beat Liu, who piled up 10.17 of her 73.89 points for the triple Axel. Bell fell just short, underrotating the triple toe loop in her Lutz-toe combination to finish with 70.30.

“I’m pretty disappointed in myself about the combo,” Bell said.  “It hasn’t come together yet this season.  I’m being held back by the unders [under-rotations].”

The top two after Friday’s free skate will be likely go to Worlds – unless one of them is Liu, who is age ineligible not only for senior worlds until the 2021-22 season but for junior worlds until next season.

MORE: Get to know Alysa Liu

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships 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.

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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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MORE: 2019-20 Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule

Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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