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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