Bradie Tennell arrives again at the summit of U.S. women’s skating

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Bradie Tennell knows the old cliché athletes use to explain what keeps them going through thick and thin, when they try not to have their eyes always on a prize.

“They say it’s about the journey, not the destination,” Tennell said. “But the destination feels pretty good, too.”

It was a place she had been before and one Tennell turned her life inside out last summer to reach again: the top step of the women’s podium at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Tennell got there Friday night as convincingly as she had the first time, in 2018, sweeping the short program and free skate, earning 232.61 points and winning by a whopping 17.28 over the surprise (and surprised) runner-up, Amber Glenn, whose best previous finish at nationals was fifth last year.

The gap between Glenn and fourth finisher Alysa Liu was just 1.94 points.

Bronze medalist Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. champion, returned to the top three for the first time since 2018. Chen was 1.59 ahead of Liu, 15, whose two-year reign as champion ended in a season when a growth spurt and an injury left her struggling with the jumps that had won her the titles.

With a fall on her opening jump – the 15th and last fall among the 17 competitors in a year when everyone’s training has been compromised by the pandemic – Mariah Bell dropped into fifth after having been seen as the title favorite before this event in a COVID-19 safety “bubble” at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Tennell, 22, is now listed as the first woman in more than 100 years to win a second U.S. title three years after the first. It previously happened after the event was not held for four of five seasons during World War I.

“Winning my title back means everything to me,” Tennell said. “It was one of the driving forces behind my move to Colorado (from Illinois) this year, the driving force behind me waking up to go to train every day.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results | TV Schedule

Tennell did it with a commanding free skate that had just one flaw, a slightly under rotated second jump of her opening triple-triple combination. She avoided the late jumping mistake that had contributed to her losing the past two years after having won the short program.

Her new coach, Tom Zakrajsek, had taught her a “key phrase” for going into her last jump that Tennell said “made a big difference” but would not reveal. Ironically, Zakrajsek was back in Colorado Springs recovering from a mild case of COVID, having tested positive Jan. 3.

Glenn, the 2014 U.S. junior champion who had walked away from the sport for six months in 2015 because of what she said were mental health issues, moved from fifth after the short program by delivering the only flawless free skate of the night.

“Of course I had thought about [making the podium at nationals], but it was just a dream, not something thought would happen,” she said.

When her score (144.50) came up, Glenn’s jaw dropped behind her mask, and she mouthed a tame expletive to express her surprise. It was 31 points higher than Glenn had scored in any of four previous free skates at nationals.

“I was in utter shock,” Glenn said. “It didn’t feel real. I was flipped out.”

Glenn skated that well despite learning after the short program that an infection in her right foot had spread to her right knee by the free skate, causing swelling in her shin and calf. She was about to get antibiotics to treat what she had thought was pain caused by nervousness.

“Knowing I had to push through that, I was able to skate with no pressure,” she said.

Glenn, 21, had returned to skating from her hiatus when she discovered a “normal life…was just not enough for me. I didn’t want to start something new. I wanted to go back to what I had committed nine years of my life to at that point. I felt there was something missing in my life without skating.

“I came back with the goal of trying to enjoy it like I did when I was younger. When that happened, I started really improving on the ice.

Liu, who had to scrap her signature triple Axel when her physical changes made it inconsistent, had skated a strong second-place short program but could not keep her jumps together in the free skate. She managed to land cleanly just three of a planned seven triple jumps.

“I didn’t expect too much of myself,” she said. “I expected bare minimum the way things were going. Obviously I really wanted to skate well. The short I am very pleased with. My long didn’t go as planned.”

In 2019, at 13 years old and 4-foot-9, Liu had become the apparent next big thing in U.S. skating. She was then not only the youngest women’s champion in history but the first to land a triple Axel in the short program and two in the long at the U.S. Championships. Those big points jumps made up for what she lacked in artistry.

“It was a big challenge this season, especially with corona[virus] and me growing and injuries, but it was a really good learning experience,” Liu said. “I’m glad it happened this season and not another.

Liu will not be age eligible for senior international competition until next season, which happens to be an Olympic season.

Two women will be named Saturday for the 2021 U.S. world championship team (Tennell is assured of one spot).

The world championships are scheduled to take place the March 22-28 in Stockholm, but it would not be surprising if they have to be cancelled, as nearly every other international figure skating event this season has been. The 2020 World Championships in Montreal were cancelled when the pandemic began to hit full force last March.

“I’m going to continue training as if worlds is happening,” Tennell said. “But of course we have to make sure it can be held safely, because the number one priority is obviously the health and safety of everyone involved.”

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

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

Mikaela Shiffrin
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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.”

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

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.

“What she did at the Olympics versus what she did in this run, two completely different things,” NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said on the Peacock broadcast, adding that it was “an error of aggression.” “It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out. 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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2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships results

Mikaela Shiffrin World Championships
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Top 10 and notable results from the 2023 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Meribel and Courchevel, France …

Women’s Combined
Gold: Federica Brignone (ITA) — 1:57.47
Silver: Wendy Holdener (SUI) — +1.62
Bronze: Ricarda Haaser (AUT) — +2.26
4. Ramona Siebenhofer (AUT) — +2.48
5. Franziska Gritsch (AUT) — +2.71
6. Michelle Gisin (SUI) — +3.43
7. Laura Gauche (FRA) — +3.71
8. Emma Aicher (GER) — +3.78
9. Elena Curtoni (ITA) — +4.05
10. Marie-Michele Gagnon (CAN) — +4.91
13. Bella Wright (USA) — +6.21
DQ (slalom). Mikaela Shiffrin (USA)
DNS (slalom). Lara Gut-Behrami (SUI)
DNS (slalom). Ragnhild Mowinckel (NOR)
DNS (slalom). Sofia Goggia (ITA)
DNF (super-G). Marta Bassino (ITA)
DNF (super-G). Breezy Johnson (USA)
DNF (super-G). Tricia Mangan (USA)

Men’s Combined (Feb. 7)
Women’s Super-G (Feb. 8)
Men’s Super-G (Feb. 9)
Women’s Downhill (Feb. 11)
Men’s Downhill (Feb. 12)
Team Parallel (Feb. 14)
Men’s Parallel (Feb. 15)
Women’s Parallel (Feb. 15)
Women’s Giant Slalom (Feb. 16)
Men’s Giant Slalom (Feb. 17)
Women’s Slalom (Feb. 18)
Men’s Slalom (Feb. 19)

ALPINE WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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