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Bradie Tennell on her improved artistry this season

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Bradie Tennell finished with a silver medal behind 13-year-old Alysa Liu at this year’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, just days before her 21st birthday.

Then in February, she placed fifth at the Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, Calif. Her next stop is the world championships in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24. The PyeongChang Olympian will look to improve on her sixth-place finish from the 2018 World Championships.

NBCSports spoke with Tennell in Detroit after nationals wrapped up about the surge in her popularity since winning the national title in 2018, her ability to sell the storylines in her programs this year, and one quirky fact about why she always wears her hair the same way during competition.

Have you started to settle into like the pace of the media requests? What’s that like?

Yes. I think it’s all becoming my new normal, which is great. I think last year with everything and how it went, it was kind of a shock to me. But now that I’m more used to it and I have more experience, I think I’m better equipped to handle it all. It’s still exciting, but I don’t think it’s as shocking.

How was it at first compared to how you deal with it now?

At first it was… it was a bit unnerving. But now I feel like it’s more… it’s become just a part of the job. It’s not something that I need to fret over any more.

How did you and your choreographer, Benoit Richaud, develop the free skate storyline to “Romeo and Juliet”?

He came to me after we chose the music and he’s like, ‘Look, this is what I see in the music. Do you agree?’ I was like ‘Yea, I think that’s amazing.’

At the beginning it’s mysterious: you meet this guy at a ball and you fall in love. Then, the slow part is the tragedy where you find him on the floor. The part right before my steps, you find your love who’s dead on the floor. That part is so raw.

The ending is when Juliet is gonna take her own life. That’s when I do all the weird stuff with the dagger – which I personally love. I think it’s so inventive and so cool. I really felt like having that whole story from the very beginning really helped me in the artistry department this year.

You had said before nationals that one of your goals was to display your artistry. Did you meet that goal?

I did. I’m extremely happy with how I performed the programs in terms of the artistic side. Especially my short program. I kinda struggled to connect with that a little bit all season… I wouldn’t say struggle to connect with it. I think I’ve had a pretty good connection. I think I just struggled a little bit to show it. I think this time I really did that well here. Of course, the couple little mistakes in the long, I’m disappointed in those. But I’m very happy with the way that I performed it.

Changing topics: one of the things I read about you is that you always compete with your hair in a bun because it’s so long.

Yes. It’s not quite as long as it used to be any more. It goes about halfway down my back now. But I cut it like… I’d say like once a year. I let it grow out. I cut enough to donate to charity.

It seems like you always have a pretty intricate hair piece to match your costume. Are they made by the same person?

It depends. Sometimes my mom makes them. Sometimes the costume person makes them. It just depends on what we want to do.

How long does that take your mom?

It depends on how complicated it is. It could take an hour, it could take three hours. It depends, to actually make them. But to put them in my hair, it takes like 10-15 minutes.

What’s that process like?

I do my hair. The hairstyle’s all done and everything. And then whatever hair piece we have, she takes and she puts my hair and then she sews it in, so that it doesn’t fly out.

Can’t afford the deduction!

[laughing] That would be awful!

MORE: Hanna Harrell talks taking on the Russians at the world junior championships

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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