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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 Taylor will not defend wrestling world title

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David Taylor waited five years to get his chance at the world championships. The wait will also be a little longer than expected to defend his world title.

Taylor suffered a knee injury in a May 6 match and underwent surgery, according to his social media. He was to face Pat Downey in two weeks for the U.S.’ spot at 86kg at September’s world championships, but that’s not happening now.

“The nature of competing as a professional athlete is a delicate one,” was posted on Taylor’s accounts. “One year, you find yourself winning the tilte of the 86 kg World Champion and being voted best pound for pound wrestler on earth. In the blink of an eye, you lose yourself in thought over the noisy lull of the MRI machine, hoping that the pain in your knee isn’t what you fear most.”

Taylor, 28, was one of three U.S. men to earn maiden world titles last October in Budapest, along with fellow former NCAA standouts J’den Cox and Kyle Dake.

Taylor upset Iran’s Olympic and world champion Hassan Yazdani in his first match at worlds. He suffered a knee injury in his second match and said he was kicked in the face in the semifinals. He then dumped Turkey’s top-seeded Fatih Erdin in the final, scoring a two-point takedown in the first 10 seconds and getting a 12-2 tech fall.

“To be able to earn it the way that I earned it, there’s no easy way,” Taylor said. “I wrestled every single best guy every single round.”

Taylor became the oldest first-time Olympic or world champion for USA Wrestling since 2006. He had finished second or third at trials for the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 World teams and the 2016 Olympic team. He is one of four men to win the NCAA Wrestler of the Year award multiple times, doing so in 2012 and 2014 for Penn State.

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MORE: Helen Maroulis on why she missed world team trials

Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire