Bradie Tennell takes command in quest for an elusive second U.S. figure skating title

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After Bradie Tennell burst into prominence on the U.S. figure skating scene by winning her first national title in 2018, she did not imagine she still would be looking for a second one three seasons later.

Especially since Tennell had won the short program at the 2019 and 2020 U.S. Championships, only to falter in the free skates, finishing second and third as phenom Alysa Liu took the gold medals.

“Winning another has been a driving force for me,” Tennell said.

And yet she understood that it couldn’t turn into an obsession.

“It can be very overwhelming if you constantly dwell on it,” Tennell said Thursday night.

“I choose to keep it tucked away in the back of my mind. It’s always there, but not like on a billboard, kind of in a drawer.”

Once again, she has put herself in a strong position to take the title, winning the short program at the U.S. Championships for the fourth straight year, this time with a self-assured, sassy performance to music by the indie band, Florence + the Machine in a Las Vegas arena with no spectators. The free skate is Friday night.

And, in a perfect metaphor for a season turned inside out by a global pandemic, Tennell did it with her coach, Tom Zakrajsek, back in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after having tested positive for the coronavirus 11 days ago. Last summer, Tennell had left Denise Myers, her longtime coach in suburban Chicago, to work with Zakrajsek in Colorado.

“It has been a bit strange, especially because of all the recent changes I’ve made,” Tennell said. “Not having my head coach at a competition is a completely new experience for me.

“I don’t remember the last time life has gone according to my plan. I’m trying to dodge and weave, roll with the punches. It’s been very weird, but I’m grateful I’m able to be here and compete.”

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Tennell scored a championship record 79.40 points, topping the mark of 78.96 she set a year ago. That gave her a lead of slightly more than three points over Liu (76.36), whose utterly solid performance was by far her best of a season when a growth spurt and an injury had left her struggling with jumps.

Mariah Bell, whom many saw as the favorite coming into nationals, botched her final jump, a triple lutz, and was third at 72.37.

“I’m pretty disappointed,” Bell said.

Tennell, 22, was in complete command from start to finish. She was first in both the technical and component scores, her competitive maturity and confidence evident throughout the 2 minutes, 50 seconds.

“I think I’m growing up and coming into my own and having confidence in myself,” Tennell said. “I know I’ve done the work to earn that confidence. I had the time of my life tonight.”

Zakrajsek said in a text message he has not had a fever and his symptoms (runny nose, cough, headache) had diminished “nearly 100 percent.” He felt well enough to jump up and down as he watched Tennell from afar.

“I thought she looked amazing,” Zakrajsek said. “It was a total performance.”

So was Liu’s, even if it lacked the big jump, the triple Axel, that had played a major part in her having become the youngest champion in U.S. history at 13 two years ago and the youngest to win two straight last year.

As Liu, now 15, the first U.S. woman to land a quadruple jump in competition, began to jump with a different morphology, she temporarily shelved both the triple Axel and the quadruple lutz. A hip injury in late October kept her from doing any triple jumps at all for several weeks, so she worked more on her skating skills, which were relatively weak compared to her jumping prowess.

“I’ve found a new appreciation for skating skills and spins, because before I would just focus on jumps,” Liu said. “When I had my injury and couldn’t jump I was a little sad, but then I started to enjoy the skating part of skating.”

After Liu faltered badly in a team competition that followed Skate America in late October, it was surprising to see her tossing off three triple jumps, including a triple lutz-triple toe combination, as commandingly as she did Thursday.

“I didn’t surprise myself too much,” Liu said. “I just really wanted to do the programs I’ve been practicing the last month.

“I was really happy I could showcase my short the way I do in practice. [And] when the score came up, I was pleasantly surprised.”

It was higher than the scores that left her second to Tennell after the short program the past two years. And even though Liu insisted she isn’t concerned with placement, she finds herself with a good shot at a third straight title, a result that would be as stunning as her first.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Olympic Winter Games, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

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Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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