Bradie Tennell leads U.S. Figure Skating Champs; Gracie Gold struggles in return

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Bradie Tennell once again topped the U.S. Figure Skating Championships short program, one day after not being able to bend one of her arms. Can she hold on to dethrone 14-year-old Alysa Liu in Friday’s free skate?

Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, skated clean for the highest women’s short score in nationals history (78.96 points). Later, the defending champion Liu turned out of her triple Axel landing and tallied 75.40 for second place.

Last year, Liu overcame a short-program deficit to Tennell to become the youngest U.S. champion in history.

Gracie Gold, at her first nationals in three years after overcoming mental-health struggles, erred on her jumps and is in 13th place of 18 skaters.

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Tennell hit a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination en route to the lead. A bit surprising, given she told her coaches before her skate that her legs were shaking and that she couldn’t bend one of her arms Wednesday morning.

Tennell revealed that she hit her elbow on a wall on a bad fall, causing”swelling up and down” for the last few months. It was particularly painful and swollen this week. Turns out she had a hematoma that got infected.

“Let’s just say I’m very thankful that my mom is a nurse who has worked in the ER for 25 years,” she said.

Liu, the only active U.S. woman to land a triple Axel or a quadruple jump, overcame a 2.71-point deficit last year to win by 3.92, landing a pair of triple Axels in the free. She has since added a quad Lutz, which isn’t allowed in short programs.

“I feel like I was OK with nerves,” Liu said. “I did make a few mistakes, and it’s OK, because I can learn from them and obviously move on from this so that I don’t get too caught up.”

Mariah Bell is in third place despite falling on a step sequence after hitting all her jumps. Tennell and Bell are favored to make up the team for March’s world championships, given Liu is too young for senior international competition.

Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. champion and Olympian, is in fifth place after doubling the back end of her combination. Chen, a Cornell pre-med student, missed all of last season due to a stress fracture in her right foot.

Gold two-footed her opening jump and popped a planned triple loop. The two-time U.S. champion was competing at nationals for the first time since 2017. In between, she received treatment for an eating disorder, anxiety and depression and said she harbored suicidal thoughts, according to The New York Times.

“So scared,” she said Thursday night in the kiss-and-cry before her score of 54.51 came up. Gold had reportedly been hitting triple-triple combinations in practice.

“It wasn’t that good, both in the skating and in the results. Just hard,” she said, adding that she was at “a 3 out of 10” from where she wants to be. “There’s no way to train for whatever you describe this situation I’m currently in.

“Emotionally, I felt all the love from almost anyone I’ve run into in the crowd. Practice felt like I never missed a beat. I felt kind of competitive with the other top girls, but with, like, 20 percent of the training. It was just a lot of emotions. I think that was the hard part.”

Earlier in pairs, PyeongChang Olympians Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Christopher Knierim took a 6.71-point lead with a 77.06-point short program.

The Knierims put down their first clean program with zero negative grades of execution since the 2016 Four Continents Championships. It came after a tumultuous post-Olympic year that included two coaching changes and a seventh-place finish at nationals.

Scimeca Knierim ended the performance to “At Last” by Beyoncé by roaring and kicking the ice.

“Those feelings that I let out at the end of the program have been festering inside me for a very long time,” she said, noting their improvements on jumps under Rafael Arutunian, whose best-known pupil is Nathan Chen. The Knierims are trying to become the first pair to win three U.S. titles since 2002.

Two other past U.S. champions — Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea and Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc — are in second and third. They’re all bidding for two spots at worlds, where a U.S. pair last earned a medal in 2002.

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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. 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.

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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