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U.S. Championships ladies’ preview: Tennell, Bell dueling for top placement with 13-year-old Liu

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Bradie Tennell is looking to defend her title at the U.S. Championships this weekend in Detroit. Tennell faces challenges from another national medalist, Mariah Bell, as well as a 13-year-old with triple Axels in her arsenal.

Together, Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen won seven of the last 11 U.S. Championship titles; none are competing in Detroit. That being said, here’s a closer look at who might land on the podium.

The ladies’ short program is Thursday and the free skate is Friday. Check out the full schedule and live streaming information here.

Tennell tries to defend first title

Tennell was known for her consistency as she rose from relative unknown to U.S. Champion to Olympic team event bronze medalist in the span of a few months last year. These days, she has lost some of that consistency – though she has bettered her technical content to keep up with the best in the world. She’s looking for her improved artistry to show at this year’s championships and could win her second national title in Detroit.

MORE: 3 questions with Bradie Tennell

Mariah Bell hunting for first title

Bell has been on the national championships podium before, but never in the top spot. Since moving to train with Rafael Arutunian in California in 2016, Bell has been third and fifth at nationals. Her short program to Celine Dion’s “To Love You More,” choreographed by friend Adam Rippon, is one to keep an eye one. Bell figures to be one of Tennell’s biggest threats for gold in Detroit.

MORE: Mariah Bell just keeps getting better

Alysa Liu could play spoiler

The 13-year-old isn’t eligible for any senior – let alone any junior – events this season. Nevertheless, she could stand atop the podium with gold, especially with her triple Axel prowess. Liu could be the third-ever lady to land a triple Axel at nationals, behind Tonya Harding and Kimmie Meissner. (Mirai Nagasu landed a triple Axel at the Olympics, but not nationals, in 2018.) Should Liu win, she’d be the youngest U.S. champion ever. Tara Lipinski won at age 14 in 1997.

MORE: Alysa Liu with a “real chance” to win nationals

Others to watch

Starr Andrews has attempted triple Axels in the past, too. She gained game at last year’s nationals for skating to Whitney Houston’s “One Moment In Time,” in which Andrews recorded her own vocals.

Ting Cui is making her senior national debut and is known for her artistry on ice. She’s even working on a couple of quads, but we don’t expect to see them in Detroit.

Veterans like Courtney Hicks, Hannah Miller and Amber Glenn also make reappearance at the Championships. Hicks and Miller have been top-10 in the past, but not on the podium. For the past two years, Glenn finished eighth, and is looking to advance.

MORE: One spot on the line for U.S. pairs at the world championships

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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WATCH LIVE: U.S. Figure Skating Championships rhythm dance, women’s free skate

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Can Bradie Tennell hold off 14-year-old Alysa Liu? The U.S. Figure Skating Championships crowns its female medalists on Friday, live on NBC Sports.

Action starts with the rhythm dance at 4:30 p.m. ET for NBC Sports Gold subscribers, with NBCSN broadcast coverage joining in at 5. The women start at 7:25 on Gold, with NBC TV coverage starting at 8.

LIVE STREAM: Rhythm dance — Gold | NBCSN | Skate Order
LIVE STREAM: Women’s free skate — Gold | NBC | Skate Order

Tennell topped Thursday’s short program with a clean slate of jumps, plus the highest artistic score.

She bettered Liu in the short program last year, too, but fell in the free skate to take silver. Liu, meanwhile, landed two triple Axels to win by 3.92 points and become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Another skater to watch is Gracie Gold, the two-time U.S. champion competing at nationals for the first time in three years. Gold, lauded for her return from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety, struggled with jumps in the short and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

In the rhythm dance, past U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates are expected to begin a duel that should come down to Saturday’s free dance.

Key Skate Times
5:32 p.m. — Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue
5:38 — Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
5:44 — Madison Chock/Evan Bates
8:07 — Gracie Gold
10:03 — Karen Chen
10:11 — Amber Glenn
10:27 — Bradie Tennell
10:35 — Mariah Bell
10:43 — Alysa Liu

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NATIONALS: TV 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.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist, who defected, eyes Tokyo Games as German or refugee

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LÜNEN, Germany (AP) — Iran’s only female Olympic medalist said Friday she wants to compete for Germany after defecting from her native country.

Kimia Alizadeh is trying to rebuild her life and career after she announced this month she had left Iran, citing sexism on the part of officials there.

“Even if I do not make it to the Olympics, it does not matter because I have made up my mind,” Alizadeh said at a meeting with journalists at a taekwondo club.

“I am sure that I will be judged by many, but I am just 21 years old and can attend world tournaments and future Olympics. However, I will spare no effort to get the best result at this time as well.”

She added she doesn’t expect ever to compete in Iran again.

Alizadeh was just 18 when she won bronze in taekwondo at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, catapulting her to instant fame at home. Despite Iran’s long history of victories in men’s wrestling and weightlifting, no Iranian woman had ever won a medal before.

However, Alizadeh was frustrated with life in Iran despite her Olympic success. In an Instagram post this month announcing she had left Iran, she accused Iranian officials of sexism and criticized wearing the mandatory hijab headscarf.

Alizadeh hasn’t given up hope of being able to compete at this year’s Olympics in Tokyo. However, getting there would require highly unusual exemptions from the usual rules on nationality switches and qualification, regardless of whether she tries to represent Germany or the International Olympic Committee’s refugee team.

Alizadeh spent time in the Netherlands before heading to Germany this week to meet with taekwondo officials there. The German Taekwondo Union has spoken up in favor of Alizadeh staying in the country in what it calls a first step toward her gaining nationality and becoming eligible to compete for Germany.

“If the German government assists me and I can go through this process as fast as possible, I might be able to make it to the Olympics, too,” she said.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes have left their country, citing government pressure. In September, the former world judo champion Saeed Mollaei moved to Germany after walking off the Iranian team at the world championships in Japan. He said Iranian officials had tried to force him to withdraw so as not to compete against an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Faghani, an Iranian international soccer referee, also left Iran for Australia last year.

Alizadeh said she just wants “a peaceful life,” and she’s not looking back.

“I have a great feeling to have made a decision for my life that would definitely change my future,” she said. “I think it is not even clear enough now and. in the years to come, I will understand what a good decision I made.”

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MORE: Full list of U.S. athletes qualified for Tokyo Olympics