Bradie Tennell returns for U.S. Figure Skating Championships amid long injury battle

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Bradie Tennell, the top U.S. women’s singles skater at the 2018 Olympics and reigning national champion, has battled a chronic right foot injury since July that kept her out of all competitions leading up to next week’s U.S. Championships and Olympic team selection.

Training became cycles of stops and starts, with interruptions of one to three days. Sometimes a week. Even one stretch that was two or three weeks.

“There have been several times this year where I thought, oh, hey, this is getting better. And then I would go and try something on the ice. And I’d be like, oh my god, I can’t even walk, and we’re back to square one,” she said last week. “So I’m trying to remain optimistic that everything will be OK.”

Tennell withdrew from all six of her international assignments — from September through early December. She has trained since early this month with one-to-three-day breaks “every so often just based on my pain levels,” she said.

She set her competition return for next week’s nationals in Nashville. That’s where the three-woman Olympic team will be chosen by committee based on results over the past year.

Tennell, whose foot has been aggravated repeatedly by trying to train jumps, wasn’t sure when asked to rate her fitness on a scale of 1 to 100. Her ability to practice run-throughs of her programs “depends on how much I can handle” on a given day, she said.

“I have a different definition of 100 percent this year,” she said. “I’m remaining optimistic, and I’m training as hard as I can. And I’m very hopeful.”

She will try to become the first singles skater in at least 30 years to make the U.S. Olympic team by making a season debut at the U.S. Championships.

It is different than but reminiscent of Michelle Kwan, who petitioned to the 2006 Olympic team without competing at all that season, but withdrew before the Torino Games with a groin injury. In 2010, Sasha Cohen competed for the first time in four years at the U.S. Championships and placed fourth, missing that two-woman Olympic team.

“We realize that nationals is going to be kind of, we’re looking for that Hail Mary pass, right?” said Tom Zakrajsek, Tennell’s coach the last two seasons in Colorado Springs. “What I’ve seen is just grace and dignity throughout this whole process, as frustrating as it is. She’s kept her chin up.”

Tennell, who gave the petition process some thought in case she couldn’t compete at nationals, still isn’t totally sure of the specific injury.

It first bothered her in July, but was fine the next day. Then over one weekend, it became a problem and “just never resolved itself or got better,” she said. She had multiple tests on the foot, received many diagnoses, saw doctors while training in Boston and Chicago and tried to figure out the best treatment plan amid the uncertainty.

In October, she said the initial injury was a stress reaction, followed by muscle tears.

“It’s felt like 10 years, but it’s only been six months,” she said last week.

Tennell weathered significant injury before.

After winning the 2015 U.S. junior title at age 16, two stress fractures in her back kept her off the ice for a total of six months in her first two senior seasons.

She returned to full strength for the 2017-18 Olympic season. At first an unknown, she took bronze in her Grand Prix debut and skated the two best programs of her career to win the national title and book an Olympic spot. In PyeongChang, she was the top American woman in ninth place.

“I’m a fighter,” she said last week. “I don’t give up easily at all for anything. So I’m going to keep fighting until, basically, time runs out, or I can’t anymore.”

The triple-triple jump combination may be key to the Olympic hopes of Tennell or any American next week. Tennell hit it consistently to make the 2018 Olympic team and win the last national title. Of the U.S. women, only Alysa Liu and Amber Glenn hit a positively graded triple-triple during the fall Grand Prix Series, and each did so once in four programs.

Tennell changed her jumping content a little bit due to the injury, but a triple-triple is still part of the plan.

“I do love a challenge,” she said. “Maybe not one that’s quite this drawn out. But, in the face of adversity, I feel like that’s kind of where I shine.”

Zakrajsek learned that in their first season together last year. She managed a coaching change, a move from her native Chicagoland and the pandemic complications that every skater faced in one way or another. Then last January, Tennell became the first woman in 101 years to go three or more years between national titles.

“I have a lot of faith in her if she can be pain-free,” Zakrajsek said. “If there’s anyone that can go out there with limited training, and give it a good go, it’s Bradie Tennell.”

NBC Olympics researcher Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report.

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Luz Long’s Olympic silver medal for sale from Jesse Owens long jump duel

Jesse Owens, Luz Long
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One of the most consequential Olympic medals ever awarded is on the auction block — the silver medal captured in 1936 by Germany’s Luz Long, the long jumper who walked arm in arm through the stadium with Jesse Owens to celebrate their triumphs while Adolf Hitler watched from the stands.

Long’s family has decided to auction the medal and other collectibles from the German jumper’s career. Long was killed in World War II in 1943.

The auction house selling the medal has labeled Long’s collection “The Beacon of Hope.”

“The story of Jesse Owens never seems to end,” said Long’s granddaughter, Julia Kellner-Long, in a phone interview from her house in Munich. “My grandfather has always been inspirational and influential in the way I choose to see the world, and this is something I think the world outside needs. Now more than ever. It gives us hope.”

Long cemented himself in Olympic lore during the Berlin Games when he was the first to congratulate Owens on his triumph in the long jump. Later they walked around the stadium together and posed for pictures.

There’s also the story Owens told of Long approaching him after he fouled on his first two attempts in the preliminary round. With only one more try to make the final, Owens said Long suggested he take off a foot in front of the board, to assure he wouldn’t foul on his last try. Owens took that advice and went on to win the title — one of four he captured in Berlin — with a then-Olympic record jump of 8.06 meters (26 feet, 5 1/2 inches).

Owens was Black, and his stirring success at those Olympics was said to have annoyed Hitler by puncturing the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority.

The camaraderie between Owens and Long, and the relationship that ensued between the men and their families, are often held up as the prime example of what the Olympics are supposed to be about — a peaceful coming together of people from different countries and cultures who set their differences aside in the spirit of competition.

“It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me,” Owens said, years later. “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace.”

The decision to sell came shortly after Luz’s son (and Julia’s father), Kai, died at age 80. Kellner-Long said the great responsibility of preserving her grandfather’s memorabilia should be passed onto an individual, or museum, that has the time and resources to do so. The family also wanted to use the sale to rekindle the story of Long and Owens.

“Even 86 years later, shining a beacon of hope is an important and realistic value, especially in a time of increasing racism, increasing exclusion and hatred,” Kellner-Long said.

The auction house started the bidding for Long’s medal at $50,000, and estimated the value at somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million. The bidding runs through Oct. 15. The value of Olympic medals on the open market varies widely. One of Owens’ four gold medals from 1936 fetched $1.46 million. Bill Russell’s gold medal from the 1956 Olympics recently sold for $587,500.

David Kohler of SCP Auctions, which is conducting the sale, said the medal is about Long, but also “the story of the courageousness and the athlete and what he did there.”

Long didn’t live long enough to see his legacy play out. He was killed in 1943 in the battle of St. Pietro on the Italian island of Sardinia. Shortly before that, he wrote a letter to Owens, one he predicted would be “the last letter I shall ever write.”

In it, Long asked Owens to go to Germany after the war and find his son.

“Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we were not separated by war,” Long wrote. “I am saying — tell him how things can be between men on this earth.”

Owens and Kai Long met several times over the years, including at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium in 1966. Owens later was a best man at Kai’s wedding.

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Jenny Simpson, most decorated U.S. miler, shifts focus with new Puma sponsorship

Jenny Simpson
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Jenny Simpson, the most decorated U.S. female miler in history, plans to return to racing on Sunday with a new shoe sponsor, Puma.

Simpson, whose last race was the Cherry Blossom 10-mile road race in Washington, D.C., in September 2021, according to World Athletics, will run what she called “a little rust-buster” at the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C.

“My intention is to turn my focus to the roads,” Simpson, 36, wrote in an email. “I have some great PUMA spikes that I love so the track isn’t off the table. But my emphasis will be road racing.”

Last year’s Cherry Blossom was her first race longer than 5,000 meters, according to World Athletics. What are the chances she eventually moves up to the marathon distance?

“This new chapter is an exploration,” she answered. “I’m going to let the races, training, and coaching guide the next steps as they come. I know I can physically do it, it’s a matter of whether I can be great at it and my team and I will only go there if we think we can be competitive. So, let’s say for chances… 51% :)”

Simpson made her first Olympic team in 2008 in the 3000m steeplechase, then in 2012 and 2016 in the 1500m, earning a bronze medal in Rio. She is the lone U.S. woman to win a world 1500m title (2011) or an Olympic 1500m medal.

From 2007 through 2019, Simpson finished in the top three in one of the 1500m, 5000m or 3000m steeplechase at all 13 annual USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Last year, she was 10th in the Olympic Trials 1500m in a bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner in history, according to Olympedia.org.

Simpson focused much of her time this year helping her Colorado community heal and rebuild from a late December fire. She did not enter the USATF Outdoors for the first time since 2006.

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