Figure skating champion Bradie Tennell, a competitive ‘shark,’ making her comeback in new waters

Benoit Richaud
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A week after chronic foot pain forced Bradie Tennell to withdraw from the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the impact of that situation hit her full force.

Tennell was the defending national champion, a good bet to make the 2022 Olympic team had she been healthy. But she was lying in bed in her family home in the Chicago suburbs as nationals was going on in Nashville.

She had lost the chance to realize her dream of skating in another Olympic Games. She had lost an entire competitive season. Then she realized a fundamental part of her also had been lost when walking to the kitchen became so painful it was easier to stay hungry until someone could bring her food.

“In my core, I’m an athlete,” Tennell said via telephone in an interview last week. “I take so much pride in being able to demand pretty much anything of my body and being able to do it. If I want to go on a 10-mile hike, I can go on a 10-mile hike. This was like my identity as an athlete being so suddenly ripped away.”

This lengthy phone and text interview was the first time the two-time U.S. champion and 2018 Olympian had spoken at length about what she described as an “honestly traumatic experience.”

Its nadir, feeling the loss of self, followed several difficult months in which the two-time U.S. champion had withdrawn from one event after another, seven in all, with a right foot issue whose source she said has never been diagnosed. She rejected a suggestion for what would have amounted to exploratory surgery to seek an answer.

Tennell had vowed to herself even before last season that it would not be her last as a competitor. Being physically able to fulfill that vow was an eight-month process that went on below the radar until her Aug. 22 post on Instagram revealed a startling change in the process: new coach, new training base on a different continent.

Maybe there should have been a hint to the switch in the posts a few days earlier that showed her floating blissfully on her back in the limpid turquoise water of a cove near Marseille, France, and gazing at the sea from rocks in Toulon. Tennell clearly seemed at home in the environment of southeastern France, so much so she has moved to Nice, a seaside city she will see for the first time when she lands there Monday.

She pulled up stakes to train at a rink she has never seen with a Peak Ice coaching team in Nice headed by Benoit Richaud, her choreographer since 2017. Tennell, 24, had spent the previous two seasons training with coach Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after 12 with Denise Myers in the Chicago area.

Her original plan had been to return to Colorado Springs once she was healthy enough to train. The idea of relocating to Nice began to attract Tennell while working with Richaud’s team at an August camp in La Garde, France, about 80 miles southwest of Nice.

“The vibes and atmosphere in the group there were very good,” said Tennell, whose French so far is limited to what she has gleaned from language learning apps.

During her second week in La Garde, she approached Richaud about training with his group full-time and found him “very open to the idea.” That was all the encouragement she needed.

“Bradie is at an age and point of maturity that she wanted to take responsibility for what is good for her,” Richaud said. “Over the years working together, we have had a very trusting relationship.”

She long had enjoyed working with Richaud, 34, a former ice dancer who choreographed the programs with which Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto won the world title and the Olympic bronze medal last season. But Tennell had no coaching history with Cedric Tour, 28, the Peak Ice technical director, who competed once in the French senior championships, finishing 12th.

It took just one session with Tour for Tennell to like his approach. She immediately told Richaud how impressed she was with the way Tour could fix flaws and explain the reasons both for doing it and for how he did it.

“I said that to Benoit after my first lesson with Cedric because he is so smart in technical corrections,” Tennell said. “Some of the things he was telling me I hadn’t heard before, and the exercises and drills he was putting me through was like a cold bucket of water over my head.

“I loved it because it showed me how much more I have to learn about jumping and technique in general. I think at this point in my career, it’s important to be excited not only for training every day, but also to learn about the how and why certain things are important.”

Richaud makes no secret of his disdain for continual pat-on-the back coaching when a skater needs criticism. He sees in Tennell a skater whose ego will not be bruised by having her mistakes pointed out.

“Everywhere I go, I always hear, ‘Good job,’ even when it’s a terrible job,” Richaud said. “Bradie is not a `good job’ girl. She craves correction. She wants to be better.”

Tennell agrees.

“I have always been that way,” she said. “I prefer to have somebody tell me something bluntly than to beat around the bush and sugarcoat it. If something is bad, tell me it’s bad so I can fix it and move on to something else. Also, by working this way, it allows me to truly believe somebody when they tell me something is good or I’ve done a good job.”

In less than a month working in France, Tennell knew she had done a good job when she landed a clean triple lutz-triple toe loop combination, an element she had not executed successfully in nearly a year because of the pain when she did the right foot pick on the lutz takeoff. Tennell unashamedly cried after landing it.

“A very large part of me believed I never would be able to do it again,” Tennell said. “By some miracle, I’ve been able to continue. I keep that in the back of my mind, and I’m so grateful. I’m going to step on the ice and literally cherish every moment.

“In those dark winter months in Chicago when everything was going on without me, I really didn’t think this was a possibility.”

It has been a slow process to get back this point. The first step involved eliminating the pain, and much of the treatment simply was rest. She had been on crutches at various times and took days off but it wasn’t true rest.

So Tennell did not skate at all this year until the end of March, eased herself back onto the ice in April and May and did minimal jumping after then, including the first two weeks at the summer camp.

“Those first two months back were just getting a feel for the ice again,” she said. “I was allowing myself to come back in a way where I could process everything I had lost last season but also use the newfound kind of wisdom I had gained from going through the honestly traumatic experience.”

By early-summer, Tennell felt confident enough to ask for Grand Prix assignments, and she got two, for the fourth (England) and sixth (Finland) meets of the six-event series. She plans to do a couple other events before then. Her last competition was the World Team Trophy in April 2021.

Tennell will re-use half of the tango short program prepared for the Olympic season, with Richaud revising the other half. His choreography for her new free skate will give an oft-used piece of music in figure skating, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” a strikingly different interpretation he chose not to reveal until it is performed.

“The point of this season will be her reconnection with competition,” Richaud said. “Bradie is addicted to competition. She is a shark on the ice.”

Like a shark, Tennell is relentless in pursuit of her goals, her devotion to hard training often maniacal. She does not intend to change out of fear of injury. Tennell wants more from herself than just being a good comeback story.

“I think I’m still going to be kind of a maniac because I have a lot of work ahead of me,” she said. “I will be much more careful and mindful but I’m not going to allow myself not to train as hard because I’m afraid of something happening. I want to fully give myself to the goals I have.”

Tennell came out of nowhere to win the U.S. title in 2018. She won it again in 2021 and made the podium in both years in between. She was the top U.S. finisher in women’s singles at the 2018 Olympics. She has finished as high as sixth in three world championship appearances.

She returns to a sport with a very different competitive landscape. The Russians who have dominated women’s skating the past eight seasons are barred because of their country’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The three U.S women on the 2022 Olympic team are either retired (Alysa Liu) or all but retired (Mariah Bell and Karen Chen). Two skaters moving up to senior international competition, reigning world junior champion Isabeau Levito and reigning world junior bronze medalist Lindsay Thorngren, presumably would be a healthy Tennell’s main national rivals.

“My job is still the same, and my goals are still the same,” Tennell said. “I want to show this is what I’m meant to be doing and what I love. I want to be national champion again. I want to be on the podium at worlds.”

Just being a warm and fuzzy comeback story is not enough for Bradie Tennell. That’s not how sharks roll.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Alpine skiing TV, live stream schedule for 2022-23 World Cup season

Mikaela Shiffrin, Marco Odermatt
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NBC Sports and Peacock combine to air live coverage of the 2022-23 Alpine skiing season, including races on the World Cup.

Coverage began with the traditional season-opening stop in Soelden, Austria.

The first of four stops in the U.S. — the most in 26 years — was Thanksgiving weekend with a women’s giant slalom and slalom in Killington, Vermont. The men’s tour visited Beaver Creek, Colorado the following week, with stops in Palisades Tahoe, California, and Aspen, Colorado after February’s worlds in Courchevel and Meribel, France.

NBC Sports platforms air all four U.S. stops in the Alpine World Cup season, plus four more World Cups in other ski and snowboard disciplines. All Alpine World Cups in Austria stream live on Peacock.

Mikaela Shiffrin, who last year won her fourth World Cup overall title, is the headliner. Shiffrin, who began the season with 74 career World Cup race victories, is now up to 84, passing Lindsey Vonn for the female record and now two behind Ingemar Stenmark‘s overall record.

On the men’s side, 25-year-old Swiss Marco Odermatt returns after becoming the youngest man to win the overall, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, since Marcel Hirscher won the second of his record eight in a row in 2013.

2022-23 Alpine Skiing World Cup Broadcast Schedule
Schedule will be added to as the season progresses. All NBC Sports TV coverage also streams live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Date Coverage Network/Platform Time (ET)
Sat., Oct. 22 Women’s GS (Run 1) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden (PPD) Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Sun., Oct. 23 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Soelden Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) – Soelden Peacock 7 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 12 Women’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 6 a.m.
Women’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 12 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 13 Men’s Parallel (Qualifying) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s Parallel (Finals) — Lech (PPD) Peacock 10 a.m.
Sat., Nov. 19 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7 a.m.
Sun., Nov. 20 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Levi Skiandsnowboard.live 7:15 a.m.
Fri., Nov. 25 Men’s DH — Lake Louise (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sat., Nov. 26 Women’s GS (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Sun., Nov. 27 Women’s SL (Run 2) — Killington NBC, Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Men’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:15 p.m.
Fri., Dec. 2 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2 p.m.
Sat., Dec. 3 Women’s DH — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 2:30 p.m.
Men’s DH — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*
Sun., Dec. 4 Women’s SG — Lake Louise Skiandsnowboard.live 1 p.m.
Men’s SG — Beaver Creek NBC, Peacock 5 p.m.*
Sat., Dec. 10 Men’s GS (Run 1) – Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 1) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Sun., Dec. 11 Men’s SL (Run 1) – Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 1) – Sestriere Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Val d’Isere Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) – Sestiere Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Thu., Dec. 15 Men’s DH — Val Gardena Skiandsnowboard.live 6 a.m.
Fri., Dec. 16 Women’s DH — St. Moritz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s SG — Val Gardena (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 5:45 a.m.
Sat., Dec. 17 Women’s DH — St. Moritz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Men’s DH — Val Gardena Skiandsnowboard.live 5:45 a.m.
Sun., Dec. 18 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Women’s SG — St. Moritz Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Mon., Dec. 19 Men’s GS (Run 1) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Alta Badia Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Thu., Dec. 22 Men’s SL (Run 1) – Madonna Skiandsnowboard.live 11:45 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Madonna Skiandsnowboard.live 2:45 p.m.
Tue., Dec. 27 Women’s GS (Run 1) – Semmering Peacock 4 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Semmering Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Wed., Dec. 28 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Semmering Peacock 4 a.m.
Men’s DH — Bormio Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) – Semmering Peacock 7:05 a.m.
Thu., Dec. 29 Men’s SG — Bormio Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 1) – Semmering Peacock 9 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) – Semmering Peacock 12:30 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 4 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Zagreb Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 1) — Garmisch Skiandsnowboard.live 9:40 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Zagreb Skiandsnowboard.live 10:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Garmisch Skiandsnowboard.live 12:45 p.m.
Thu., Jan. 5 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Zagreb (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 9 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Zagreb (PPD) Skiandsnowboard.live 12 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 7 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 1) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Sun., Jan. 8 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 1) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kranjska Gora Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Adelboden Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Tue., Jan. 10 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Flachau Peacock 12 p.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Flachau Peacock 2:45 p.m.
Fri., Jan. 13 Men’s SG — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 6 a.m.
Sat., Jan. 14 Women’s SG — St. Anton Peacock 5 a.m.
Men’s DH — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.
Sun., Jan. 15 Men’s SL (Run 1) — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SG — St. Anton Peacock 5:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Wengen Skiandsnowboard.live 7:15 a.m.
Fri., Jan. 20 Women’s DH — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Men’s DH — Kitzbühel Peacock 5:30 a.m.
Sat., Jan. 21 Women’s DH — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 4 a.m.
Men’s DH — Kitzbühel Peacock 5:30 a.m.
Men’s DH — Kitzbühel NBC 5 p.m.*
Sun., Jan. 22 Men’s SL (Run 1) — Kitzbühel Peacock 4:30 a.m.
Women’s SG — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 5:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Kitzbühel Peacock 7:30 a.m.
Tue., Jan. 24 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m.
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 1) — Schladming Peacock 11:45 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Schladming Peacock 2:45 p.m.
Wed., Jan. 25 Women’s GS (Run 1) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 4:30 a.m
Women’s GS (Run 2) — Kronplatz Skiandsnowboard.live 7:30 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 1) — Schladming Peacock 11:45 a.m.
Men’s GS (Run 2) — Schladming Peacock 2:45 p.m.
Sat., Jan. 28 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m
Men’s SG — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 5:10 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m
Sun., Jan. 29 Women’s SL (Run 1) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 3:15 a.m.
Men’s SG — Cortina d’Ampezzo Skiandsnowboard.live 4:15 a.m.
Women’s SL (Run 2) — Spindleruv Mlyn Skiandsnowboard.live 6:15 a.m.
Sat., Feb. 4 Men’s SL (Run 1) — Chamonix Skiandsnowboard.live 3:30 a.m.
Men’s SL (Run 2) — Chamonix Skiandsnowboard.live 6:30 a.m.

*Delayed broadcast.

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Aryna Sabalenka wins Australian Open for first Grand Slam singles title

Aryna Sabalenka Australian Open 2023
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MELBOURNE, Australia — The serves were big. So big. Other shots, too. The points were over quickly. So quickly: Seven of the first 13 were aces.

And so it was immediately apparent in the Australian Open women’s final between Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina that the one who could manage to keep her serve in line, get a read on returns and remain steady at the tightest moments would emerge victorious.

That turned out to be Sabalenka, a 24-year-old from Belarus, who won her first Grand Slam title by coming back to beat Wimbledon champion Rybakina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at Melbourne Park on Saturday night, using 17 aces among her 51 total winners to overcome seven double-faults.

It was telling that Sabalenka’s remarks during the post-match ceremony were directed at her coach, Anton Dubrov, and her fitness trainer, Jason Stacy — she referred to them as “the craziest team on tour, I would say.”

“We’ve been through a lot of, I would say, downs last year,” said Sabalenka, who was appearing in her first major final. “We worked so hard and you guys deserve this trophy. It’s more about you than it’s about me.”

Now 11-0 in 2023 with two titles already, she is a powerful player whose most glowing strength was also her most glaring shortfall: her serve. Long capable of hammering aces, she also had a well-known problem with double-faulting, leading the tour in that category last year with nearly 400, including more than 20 apiece in some matches.

After much prodding from her group, she finally agreed to undergo an overhaul of her serving mechanics last August. That, along with a commitment to trying to stay calm in the most high-pressure moments, is really paying off now.

The only set she has dropped all season was the opener on Saturday against Rybakina, who eliminated No. 1 Iga Swiatek in the fourth round.

But Sabalenka turned things around with an aggressive style and, importantly, by breaking Rybakina three times, the last coming for a 4-3 lead in the third set that was never relinquished.

Still, Sabalenka needed to work for the championship while serving in what would be the last game, double-faulting on her initial match point and requiring three more to close things out.

When Rybakina sent a forehand long to cap the final after nearly 2 1/2 hours, Sabalenka dropped to her back on the court and stayed down for a bit, covering her face as her eyes welled with tears.

Sabalenka was 0-3 in Grand Slam semifinals until eliminating Magda Linette in Melbourne. Now Sabalenka has done one better and will rise to No. 2 in the rankings.

As seagulls were squawking loudly while flying overhead at Rod Laver Arena, Rybakina and Sabalenka traded booming serves. Rybakina’s fastest arrived at 121 mph (195 kph), Sabalenka’s at 119 mph (192 kph). They traded zooming groundstrokes from the baseline, often untouchable, resulting in winner after winner.

“Hopefully,” Rybakina said afterward, “we’re going to have many more battles.”

The key statistic, ultimately, was this: Sabalenka accumulated 13 break points, Rybakina seven. Sabalenka’s trio of conversions was enough, and the constant pressure she managed to apply during Rybakina’s service games had to take a toll.

Sabalenka had been broken just six times in 55 service games through the course of these two weeks, an average of once per match. It took Rybakina fewer than 10 minutes of action and all of two receiving games to get the measure of things and lead 2-1, helped by getting back one serve that arrived at 117 mph (189 kph).

A few games later, Sabalenka returned the favor, also putting her racket on one of Rybakina’s offerings at that same speed. Then, when Sabalenka grooved a down-the-line backhand passing winner to grab her first break and pull even at 4-all, she looked at Dubrov and Stacy in the stands, raised a fist and shouted.

In the next game, though, Sabalenka gave that right back, double-faulting twice — including on break point — to give Rybakina a 5-4 edge. This time, Sabalenka again turned toward her entourage, but with a sigh and an eye roll and arms extended, as if to say, “Can you believe it?”

Soon after, Rybakina held at love to own that set.

Sabalenka changed the momentum right from the get-go in the second set. Aggressively attacking, she broke to go up 3-1, held for 4-1 and eventually served it out, fittingly, with an ace — on a second serve, no less.

Sabalenka acknowledged ahead of time that she expected to be nervous. Which makes perfect sense: This was the most important match of her career to date.

And if those jitters were evident ever-so-briefly early — she double-faulted on the evening’s very first point — and appeared to be resurfacing as the end neared, Sabalenka controlled them well enough to finish the job.

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