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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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David Boudia wins U.S. title, qualifies for worlds after break from diving

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David Boudia, after a year away from diving, two more children, a concussion and a goodbye to the platform, is back in familiar territory. He’s on the U.S. team for the world championships.

Boudia, a 30-year-old, four-time Olympic medalist, outscored fellow Rio Olympian Michael Hixon to win the springboard at the U.S. Championships on Saturday.

The top two per individual event by cumulative score at nationals go to July’s worlds in South Korea. Boudia was in third place going into the finals but had the top Saturday score by 23.35 to leap onto the team with Hixon.

“It’s relieving, but in my mind, as an athlete, there’s a lot of work to be done before 2020,” Boudia said on NBCSN. “I have to learn new dives if I want to contend with the best in the world.”

Later Saturday, Rio Olympian Amy Cozad Magaña and Delaney Schnell made the world team in the women’s platform, with Schnell helping knock out Rio Olympian Jessica Parratto. Competition concludes Sunday with the women’s springboard and men’s platform.

Boudia, whose 72 career Olympic dives all came off the platform, switched to the more forgiving springboard after a February 2018 concussion.

He considered retiring after a third Olympics in Rio, where he earned synchro silver and individual bronze after an individual gold at London 2012. He even began a real-estate job in Indiana. But he announced a diving comeback in September 2017, saying he didn’t want to have any “what ifs” later in life.

Boudia then beat Hixon at the 2018 Winter Trials, proving he could master the new event. The other Rio Olympian on the springboard, Kristian Ipsen, has retired.

Boudia has competed at every Olympics and world championships since 2005, except in 2017 of course, and is the only U.S. diver to earn a medal in an individual Olympic event at either meet since 2009.

“I don’t think I have been that nervous since 2005,” Boudia said, according to TeamUSA.org. “Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five.”

Cozad Magaña, 28, placed seventh in synchro at the Rio Olympics and plans to retire after 2020. Schnell, 20, was sixth individually at the 2016 Olympic Trials and second at the 2017 world trials before placing 27th at her world debut two years ago.

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U.S. men’s rugby team qualifies for Tokyo Olympics

U.S. men's rugby sevens team
Mike Lee/KLC
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The U.S. became the first men’s rugby team to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, clinching its spot Saturday during penultimate leg of this season’s World Series.

The Americans, ranked No. 1 in the world, mathematically secured a place in the top four of the World Series final standings by advancing out of pool play in London. The knockout rounds are Sunday, but a top-eight finish was all that was necessary for Olympic qualification.

Now the U.S. can focus on a goal it didn’t have at the start of the year: winning the nation’s first World Series season title. It entered London with a slim, three-point lead over Olympic champion Fiji, one that would be erased if Fiji and the U.S. advance to Sunday’s final and Fiji wins.

Regardless, the season champion will be decided at the 10th and final World Series stop in Paris next weekend.

The Americans held onto the standings lead despite being without two stars — two-time World Player of the Year Perry Baker and Danny Barrett — the last three World Series stops. Baker and Barrett returned from injuries for the London leg.

Four years ago, the U.S. needed to go to a continental qualifier to earn in its place in Rio. Rugby sevens made its Olympic debut in 2016, 92 years after the traditional 15-a-side rugby last appeared at the Games. The Americans ended up ninth in Brazil, missing the quarterfinals on a tiebreaker.

World powers Fiji, New Zealand and South Africa are in position to join the U.S. as Olympic qualifiers through the World Series.

Seven more nations will qualify via continental tournaments later this year and a last-chance event in June 2020. Japan received an automatic spot as host nation.

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