Bradie Tennell finds herself in a familiar position following Thursday night’s women’s short program at the 2021 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
For the fourth year in a row, she leads the field after the short.
The 2018 Olympian won the night with a score of 79.40, distancing herself from two-time reigning champion Alysa Liu, who earned a 76.36, and Mariah Bell, in third with 72.37.
Tennell topped the U.S. Championships record score of 78.96, which she set last year.
“I think I’m growing up and coming into my own, and it’s something I’ve been working on a lot,” Tennell said on the NBCSN broadcast. “I’m really owning my decisions and having confidence in myself.”
The 22-year-old made a major life change in August, moving from Illinois, where she grew up and trained under Denise Myers for 13 years, to Colorado, where she is coached by Tom Zakrajsek. She made the move, in part, with the goal of mastering a triple Axel and potentially quadruple jumps as well. Zakrajsek, who previously coached Mirai Nagasu to a triple Axel, is notably missing from Las Vegas this week, which Tennell said is “his story to tell.” Zakrajsek later revealed he had tested positive for COVID-19 11 days prior.
Tennell, Liu and Bell were in the same order following the short program at the 2019 and 2020 U.S. Championships as well. Liu emerged the winner both years, with Tennell taking second in 2019 and Bell in that spot last year. Tennell is seeking a return to the top of the podium for the first time since 2018, while Bell is after her first national title.
Karen Chen, the 2017 winner and a 2018 Olympian, and Amber Glenn, who attempted a triple Axel, are also in the running for the podium, scoring 70.99 and 70.83.
Liu entered the competition as somewhat of an underdog.
Now 15, she had grown three inches in the offseason and was struggling with her jumps, especially the triple Axel and quadruple Lutz she had made history with the past two seasons.
“I’m pretty pleased with myself,” Liu said. “It’s the program I wanted to do, the program I’ve been practicing for the past few weeks. I’m pretty happy with how I did today.”
She had finished fourth in the virtual ISP Points Challenge and sixth of six in the free skate-only Las Vegas Invitational, which is why it came as a surprise to some that she placed second in the short program even without attempting her two signature jumps.
Bell, on the other hand, entered as a favorite after winning both the ISP Points Challenge and Skate America in October.
“Honestly, that’s what you guys are saying, that’s not what I’m saying,” she told reporters of the expectations placed upon her. “I’m doing what I’m doing and it’s exciting to have that kind of talk.”
She noted she was disappointed with a mistake on her triple Lutz and was looking forward to making up ground in the free skate.
Audrey Shin, the surprise bronze medalist at Skate America, was 10th at her senior nationals debut, scoring 57.74.
Gracie Gold, a 2014 Olympian who made a comeback at the 2020 U.S. Championships after nearly two seasons away from the sport spent dealing with depression and an eating disorder, placed 12th of 17 skaters with a 53.88.