LAS VEGAS — At Skate America on Friday night, fans got a glimpse of the “real” Bradie Tennell — strong, smart, funny; a little salty, but a little sweet.
Performing a short program set to a fast-paced medley of Kirrill Richter’s staccato piano compositions, Tennell practically gave off sparks while unleashing a solid triple Lutz, triple toe loop combination, liquid spins and her best steps ever.
The Las Vegas crowd gave her a standing ovation and so did the judges, who awarded the 2019 U.S. national silver medalist a personal best 75.10 points.
For the first time ever, Tennell leads a Grand Prix event, taking a 1.85-point advantage into Saturday’s free skate.
“I went out with the mindset to do it like I do every day in practice, no better but certainly no worse,” she said.
The 21-year-old skater, who grabbed attention with a surprising bronze medal at 2017 Skate America and went on to win the 2018 U.S. title, hasn’t always revealed as much of herself in interviews as some of her peers. She’s mostly been content with doing her job on the ice, and last season placed a solid seventh at the world championships.
“I think (this program) just allows me to show the side of myself that I am off the ice with my family, a little bit more sarcastic, a little bit funny,” Tennell said. “It’s almost like an onion when you peel back the layers. To show this program is a challenge for me but it’s a challenge I welcome.”
Longtime coach Denise Myers, who trains Tennell in the Chicago area, likes the new lens the program creates.
“Brady is a fun-loving personality that maybe now the world is getting to see a little better,” Myers said. “No surprise to me.”
The electricity Tennell ignited on Friday proves that when a skater loves her material, magic can happen. This isn’t the program Tennell and choreographer Benoit Richaud intended to use. An earlier routine, choreographed in May, failed to inspire the skater. When she saw Richaud at a training camp in Courchevel, France in June, she asked him to try again.
“So then he puts up this music and I’m like, ‘What is this, this is so cool, this is my music, let’s start now,’” Tennell recalled. “I was so excited to find this piece of music and use it…. Yeah, I love this program.”
Skate America is Tennell’s first competition of the season; a fractured bone in her right foot forced her to withdraw from a Challenger Series’ event in Canada last month. The injury kept her off of the ice for much of the summer, and when she attended U.S. Figure Skating’s Champ Camp in late August, she was wearing a protective boot.
“Before my injury, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have pain on the ice with my feet,” Tennell said. “It felt really bad at the beginning of July, and then it started to get progressively worse really quickly. So I went to the doctor and got some scans done, and they said, ‘Yeah, you’ve got a break in the bone there.’”
About a month ago, Tennell returned to full training, resolving to make up for lost time.
“That’s just her determination,” Myers said. “You have to listen to what your body is saying. She’s just very determined to have a successful season.”
Tennell’s free skate, also choreographed by Richaud, is set to music from the romantic 1988 film Cinema Paradiso.
“It’s a totally different feel, that’s what’s so exciting about this year,” Myers said. “The short is a little sassier, a little more mature, and the other program is so soft and feminine.”
It will take every ounce of Tennell’s mettle to stay on the Skate America podium. Japanese skaters Kaori Sakamoto and Wakaba Higuchi, both powerhouse jumpers, are close behind in second and third place. Russian teen Anna Shcherbakova sits fourth with 67.60 points and can make up the deficit if she lands the quadruple Lutz she showed at a Challenger event in Italy last month. In practices in Las Vegas, Shcherbakova has included two quad lutzes in her run-throughs. More on the results of the ladies’ short program from Friday evening in Las Vegas here.
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. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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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