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

0 Comments

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S., China set for FIBA Women’s World Cup gold-medal game

FIBA Women's World Cup Basketball
Getty
0 Comments

SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart and the United States used a dominant defensive effort to beat Canada and reach the gold-medal game of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Stewart scored 17 points and the Americans raced out to an early lead to put away Canada 83-43 on Friday, reaching a Saturday gold-medal game with China. The 43 points was the fewest scored in a semifinal game in World Cup history.

“Canada has been playing really well all tournament and the goal was just to come out there and really limit them,” said U.S. forward Alyssa Thomas. “We were really locked in from the jump with our game plan.”

China edged host Australia 61-59 in the later semifinal to reach its first global championship game since the 1994 Worlds, the last time it won a medal of any color. The U.S. beat China 77-63 in group play last Saturday, the Americans’ closest game of the tournament.

“Our goal was to to win a gold medal and we’re in position to do that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The U.S. (7-0), which is on a record pace for points and margin of victory in the tournament, took control of the game early scoring the first 15 points. The Americans contested every shot on the defensive end as the Canadians missed their first nine attempts from the field. On the offensive end, Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas basically got any shot they wanted.

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offense anymore after that.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

The U.S. has won seven of the eight meetings with Canada in the World Cup, although the last one came in 2010. The lone victory for Canada came in 1975.

The victory was the 29th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86. This is only the second time in the Americans’ storied history they’ve reached four consecutive gold-medal contests. They also did it from 1979-90, winning three times.

This U.S. team, which has so many new faces on it, is on pace to break many of the team’s records that include scoring margin and points per game. The Americans also continued to dominate the paint even without 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 55-24.

Amihere led Canada with eight points.

RECORD BREAKING

The low point total broke the mark of 53 that South Korea scored against Russia in 2002.

“We’re starting to build that identity,” Wilson said of the defensive effort. “We’re quick and scrappy and I think that’s our identity.”

The U.S. is averaging 101 points a game. The team’s best mark ever coming into the tournament was 99.1 set in 1994.

STILL RECOVERING

Kahleah Copper sat out after injuring her left hip in the win over Serbia in the quarterfinals. Copper landed hard on her hip driving to the basket and had to be helped off the court. She hopes to play on Saturday. Betnijah Laney, who also got hurt in the Serbia game, did play against Canada.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
Getty
0 Comments

The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. Australia vs. China Semifinals
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final