2026 Olympics

Isabeau Levito, Bradie Tennell, Amber Glenn named to U.S. team for World Championships

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – With a calm command belying her age, Isabeau Levito has taken control of U.S. women’s skating at age 15.

Levito came here as the solid favorite to take her first national title, and she did it with a seemingly effortless grace, her balletic style producing solid winning performances in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate.

She was the last of 18 skaters in the free skate, following rivals who made mistakes big and small. Levito did not need perfection, but her skating approached it, even if the execution of some jumps could have been better.

Levito left no doubt of her superiority and burst into a wide smile even before the scores were announced. After a narrow win over Bradie Tennell (.02 points) in the short program, Levito (223.33) wound up 10.21 points ahead of the runner-up Tennell (213.12) in the final standings.

Amber Glenn was third at 207.44. She, Levito and Tennell will fill the three women’s places on the U.S. team for the March World Championships in Japan.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Two of the three U.S. women’s skaters on the 2022 Olympic team have announced their retirements (Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell; Karen Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return). Given that and Tennell’s recurrent problems with injuries, Levito’s stature as the leading U.S. woman seemed assured. Whatever pressure she felt holding that position was not evident.

“My entire goal truly for both programs was to stay composed and to really try to suppress my nerves as much as possible and to really not let little minor silly mistakes happen,” Levito said. “I feel as though I did just that today and I’m very proud of myself for it.”

“I’ve gotten very good at suppressing nerves,” she had said after the short program. “I still feel the effects of the competition. But I find my own way mentally to handle it.”

For both Tennell and Glenn, there was a redemptive quality to their skating.

Neither had a result at last year’s nationals. Glenn had to withdraw after the short program when she tested positive for COVID. Tennell never made it to the event because of the foot injury that kept her out of competition for all last season.

“Honestly, it was terrifying being back here after the conclusion of my season last year,” Glenn said. “That was a big mental hurdle for me, but I was happy I was actually able to enjoy myself again and enjoy competing.”

Glenn made her 10th career attempt at a triple axel, stepping out of the landing after getting full rotational credit. Her persistence in trying that jump, which she never has landed cleanly, is one reason she was holding her hip after finishing the free skate. Glenn insisted it was just soreness.

“An unfortunate side effect of being 23 and doing these ultra (difficult) elements is my body can’t always keep up very well,” Glenn said.

Tennell, who turns 25 Tuesday, has been battling an injury in her right foot for more than a year, then an injury in her left foot since October. She fought past all that to make the podium for the fifth time in her last five nationals – twice first, twice second and once third.

“This one probably means the most, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this again,” Tennell said. “To be here and to have achieved it, especially after the (poor) start of my season and the bumps that I had to overcome, I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

Levito, the reigning world junior champion, reeled off seven triple jumps, two in combination with other triple jumps. She glided from element to element seamlessly.

“I finally skated the free the way I’ve been training to do it,” she said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Living in two worlds at once, Camden Pulkinen seeks first U.S. Championships medal

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Camden Pulkinen’s life has gotten rather more difficult since last August.

“About tenfold more difficult,” he said.

For the previous six years, when he lived and trained in Colorado Springs, Pulkinen had a five-minute drive to a rink where the elite figure skaters had almost unlimited ice time. He had finished high school online and then had taken in-person and online college courses at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs essentially on his own schedule. .

When I spoke to him early last week, that life seemed a distant memory. Now he is up at the crack of dawn to get from Columbia University’s Manhattan campus to the Chelsea Piers Sky Rink, where he begins his daily training between 8 and 8:30, and the ice time available to him ends at 11:20. That trip involves 14 stops on the 7th Avenue subway and then a mile-long walk to the rink, and it takes between 50 and 55 minutes.

When his training ends, Pulkinen does the trip in reverse to begin his day as a sophomore at the Ivy League university.

“The mental oscillation between getting through a long program and then rushing yourself to a class and having to learn about calculus is something,” Pulkinen said.

It is what the 22-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz., signed up for when he decided to continue his figure skating career through the 2026 Olympic season and become a full-time, on-campus student after having deferred his matriculation at Columbia for a year.

He got advice about doing both from some others who had experienced it, including 2022 Olympic champion Nathan Chen (Yale) and 1992 Olympic silver medalist Paul Wylie (Harvard). They told him efficiency would be critical in maximizing the time spent on the ice and the time spent on academics. Pulkinen also has joined a consulting club and a law group at Columbia.

“Sometimes I feel like I have one foot in skating and one foot in school,” Pulkinen said. “I want to try to put both feet in both sides and jump back and forth. Right now is the time to be doing that considering we have three years until the next (Winter) Games.”

It can get tricky. Pulkinen spent the holiday break training with Chen’s coach, Rafael Arutyunyan in Irvine, Calif., flew back to New York Jan. 14 to begin second-semester classes (cognitive neuroscience, cognition, research methods, statistics and Spanish), then flew back to California 11 days later for the U.S. Championships in San Jose, where he should be a strong contender for his first senior national medal.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

With his arsenal of quadruple jumps, Ilia Malinin, last year’s runner-up, seems a heavy favorite to win, and there has been plenty of buzz around the competitive return of two-time Olympian Jason Brown. Meanwhile, Pulkinen’s performances at four international events this season have been largely underwhelming. But he still sees himself potentially in the mix for a title Chen won the last six years before going into a (temporary?) competitive retirement to finish his undergraduate studies.

“Ilia is very talented, and of course he has the quad Axel, which is in itself a marvel,” Pulkinen said. “It’s not impossible to think I’m going for the title, too. I don’t want to sell myself short. I want to go in and deliver two clean programs and walk away with a medal at the very least.”

Pulkinen’s fifth place last year was his highest finish in four senior nationals. It included a 34-point improvement on his previous best total score at the event.

That result earned him the second alternate spot for the world championships and a place on the Four Continents Championships team, the latter oft seen as a consolation prize for skaters who did not make the Olympics.

Pulkinen finished a poor 11th at 2022 Four Continents and didn’t think much of his chances to wind up at the world championships in Montpellier, France, a month later, even if there was a widespread feeling that neither Chen nor first alternate Brown was likely to go. After all, Pulkinen had been third alternate the two previous years, and nothing came of it.

Five days before worlds began, Chen withdrew because of injury, Brown declined the spot, and Pulkinen began packing for his senior worlds debut. It ended with him in fifth place, less than six points from bronze-medal-winning teammate Vincent Zhou.

“I kept myself fit and well trained, and psychologically I prepared by tricking myself into thinking I was going,” Pulkinen said. “I was surprised nonetheless when I found out.”

What followed was by far the best skating of his life.

Although he placed 12th in the short program with a clean skate, Pulkinen’s score, 89.50, was the second-highest ever recorded for a 12th-place finisher in a short program, topped only by that of Italy’s Daniel Grassl (90.64) at the 2022 Olympics.

“Everyone skated very, very well,” Pulkinen said of his low placement.

In the free skate, he skated better than all but two others, gold medalist Shoma Uno and silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama, both of Japan.  Pulkinen’s performance included a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and an individual quad toe, the first time he had landed two quad jumps in a free skate at an international competition.

His short program, free skate (182.19) and total (271.69) scores all were personal bests, the latter two significant increases on his previous bests, which dated to autumn 2019. Pulkinen felt his apparent stagnation resulted both from injuries and being too concerned about replicating his personal best skating rather than refreshing it.

“Worlds became a good nod to where I could be,” said Pulkinen, whose decision to keep competing had already been made.

“I treated that as a precursor for what was to come, of scoring higher than that in the future to put myself in contention for a medal at worlds and the Olympics. I know I have had a successful career, but I haven’t reached my limit or become the best skater I can be.

“That being said, I want to make the Olympics. That is something tangible that I guess is missing from my sports (record.)”

Pulkinen initially thought when he left for school that he would remain with his Colorado Springs coaching team, doing remote sessions with them while at Columbia and returning to Colorado during school breaks and in the summer. But looking ahead to those lofty future goals, he instead switched to Alex Johnson and Arutyunyan.

Johnson, a graduate of the University of Minnesota’s Carlton School of Management, retired from competition after his ninth senior national appearance in 2019, with sixth in 2016 and 2017 as his top finishes. He coaches Pulkinen in New York in addition to his full-time job as a senior financial analyst for Amazon.

Arutyunyan began working with Pulkinen last May. For now, he is the secondary coach.

That is expected to change when Pulkinen graduates from Columbia, either in May or December 2024.  He transferred 44 credits from UCCS and will increase his Columbia course load in hopes of making the earlier date. After that, Pulkinen plans to move to California and work with Arutyunyan full time.

“Rafael is a perfectionist,” Pulkinen said. “That’s what I need. I really love getting the opportunity to work with him. He’s the master in what he knows.”

Both Arutyunyan and Pulkinen realize they will not be able to effect tremendous changes in the year or 18 months they are to be together before the 2026 Olympic team selection.

“I told him to keep his expectations (reasonable) about how much I can help,” Arutyunyan said. “I told him if he was here already, it would still be hard, and until then, I can add only maybe 15 to 20 percent of what I could do if we were together every day. It’s very hard to get the proper result even when you take only a short break.

“He understood all that going in. It was his decision.”

Pulkinen is delaying work on another type of quad until he is free of academic demands and can spend more time with Arutyunyan.

“Rafael and Alex and I all know I need technique adjustments in order to consistently execute a second and third type of quad, so we haven’t started yet,” Pulkinen said.

Yet Pulkinen doesn’t think that means he will be treading frozen water until leaving Columbia.

“Pressure makes diamonds,” he said. “Nothing is really made easily. Although it is tenfold more difficult for me now, that doesn’t mean I’m not trying to make leaps and bounds in my skating in other ways than just another quad. It’s having (choreographer) Shae-Lynn (Bourne) do my programs this year, working on my spins even more, developing a consistent technique.

“Those are things you can’t quantify like one new quad. Although the improvement right now might not be as substantial as it could be in two years or if I were not having school, I still am trying to improve myself.”

Pulkinen may have one foot on two different paths, but he hasn’t lost his way yet. Having a one-track mind clearly is not the only way for him to see the route forward.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Bradie Tennell returns to U.S. Figure Skating Championships after nightmarish comeback

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Bradie Tennell was ready. Her bags were packed for an early October trip to the Japan Open, an event that had would have symbolic resonance for her. It was to bring a traumatic part of her life full circle toward its end.

Tennell would be returning to figure skating competition in the same country where she had last competed 20 months earlier, at the 2021 World Team Trophy, before a right foot injury that frustratingly defied diagnosis.  The two-time U.S. champion had missed an entire competitive season, missed a chance at going to a second Olympics, missed the part of her identity that was Bradie Tennell the athlete.

It was the day before she was to leave for Japan. Tennell was practicing at her new training base in Nice, France, where she moved last September from her home in suburban Chicago (before her injury, she had been training in Colorado Springs). She was hoping such a dramatic change could bring renewed energy to her oft-delayed comeback.

Tennell had been training well, regularly doing clean program run-throughs in practice. She had been able to work her way back slowly and deliberately, with a schedule that allowed her to be patient.

And then, in her words, “something weird” happened on the landing of a triple toe loop jump. And now she had pain in her left foot, and the trip to Japan was off, as was a planned trip to Hungary for the Budapest Trophy a week after the Japan Open, as was … another season?

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | New Era for U.S.

“It was like, `You’ve got to be kidding me,’’’ Tennell said via telephone. “It was like all the work I had done was going to be wasted.”

Doctors found nothing broken and prescribed rest until the pain went away. That rest lasted the remainder of October. She went to the rink for therapy but could not skate.

“I was miserable,” she said.  “I have had enough rest and free time in the past year. I didn’t need any more.”

Especially since the schedule began to get less forgiving. She needed to compete at Great Britain’s Grand Prix in mid-November to earn a bye to the 2023 U.S. Championships.

When she got to England, Tennell knew she wasn’t ready. And her performances in both programs showed it, resulting in her lowest scores since fall 2015.

“That was scarier than skating at the Olympics,” she said. “I had never felt that way in a competition. I stepped on the ice for the short (program), and I could see my hands shaking. I was almost hyperventilating. I knew I needed to calm down, and I didn’t know how because for the first time in my life, I couldn’t rely on training I had done.

“It was a really surreal experience. Of all the times I pictured my comeback in my head, I never once saw it going like that, except in my nightmares.”

Benoit Richaud, her choreographer since 2017 and one of her coaches since last summer, immediately helped Tennell put the experience into perspective after she finished an equally nightmarish free program.

“You’ve already won,” he told her. “You’ve made it back.”

Intellectually, she knew Richaud was right.  She had longed to be back in competition while last season went on without her, and now she had done that. Sure, she wanted to skate better, but Tennell had accomplished her main goal despite finishing a last-place 12th: she had earned the bye to nationals, at which Tennell begins her pursuit of a third U.S. title with the short program Thursday night in San Jose, California.

Tennell reminded herself of that as, with no energy left going into her final jumping pass in England, she ground through the last 45 seconds of the free skate.

“I was like, `You just have to finish this. You have the rest of the season to improve. We’re starting at the bottom of the ladder. This is the first step,’’’ Tennell said.

Emotionally, it was harder to accept, even as her skating did improve at her next two events, Grand Prix Finland and Golden Spin of Zagreb.

“There’s two voices in my head,” she said. “I am trying to be kinder to myself and acknowledge smaller victories, because I didn’t know if I would have this chance. But then there is the relentless competitor in me.

“It’s like the two sides are at war. On one hand, I’m incredibly proud to be back again. On the other, the competitive side of me is like, `It’s never enough; you can do better.’”

The original right foot problem had made it nearly impossible for her to do Lutz and flip jumps, which require picking into the ice on the right foot. She has brought them back slowly.

At Golden Spin, two of her three triple Lutzes were clean. She has yet to do a competitive triple flip this season but insists she will have one at nationals.

“Now that I’ve had some training time, I’m feeling pretty good going into nationals,” she said. “I think people will be surprised with what I’m capable of.”

To the question of whether she is looking at a high enough placement to get her on the four continents Championships and/or world championships teams, Tennell replied unhesitatingly, “Absolutely.” (A top-three finish would put her in the best position for those spots.)

Between the left foot problem and the travel for three competitions in three different countries in just four weeks, Tennell had not been able to train consistently at her French home base between late September and mid-December.  She since has had more than a month of good training there and another week in Norwood, Massachusetts, where she arrived Jan. 15 to deal with most of the jet lag before going on to California on Monday.

“Knowing what I am capable of is what drives me,” she said. “But I’m not trying to get back to where I was before, not this big, dramatic, `She’s finally back to the Bradie we know.’’’

The Bradie we knew was the quiet, reticent person who stunningly went from an unnoticed ninth at the 2017 U.S. Championships to top of the podium in 2018, and then won a team bronze medal at the PyeongChang Olympics. She made the top three in her last four appearances at nationals, also winning in 2021.

The Bradie who turns 25 next Tuesday has morphed into a more worldly, more insightful, more open person, one who can find strength in the vulnerability of revealing her struggles, hoping someone else who is struggling might gain by hearing Tennell describe how she has dealt with them.

“I’m a different person than I was before this big injury,” she said. “You can’t go through something as traumatic as that and come out the same. It doesn’t affect just your sports life. It really affects you as a person.

“I’m going to take this new perspective and new maturity I feel I have and let it shine through in my skating.”

In her months away from the ice, Tennell necessarily thought about what her future would look like if she could not recover to compete again. First would be getting all her general education credits from McHenry County College near her home in Illinois and then transferring to a four-year school. Ultimately, she wants to coach. Nothing startling in any of that.

When it was clear she would have a competitive future, Tennell, once a homebody, surprisingly chose a different path forward by moving to the south of France, where she knew no one except her coaches and could not speak more than a few words of its language.

She lives with a host family, whose 15-year-old daughter, also a skater, helps her with French. Tennell has some French workbooks but relies mainly on Duolingo for lessons and likes the results, no matter how people chuckle when she tells them she is learning from the app.

“I feel so privileged to be able to have this experience of immersing myself in a different culture,” she said. Tennell has enjoyed poking into the different neighborhoods of Nice. She has become amazed by French cheese, its assortment so great former French President Charles de Gaulle famously joked, “How can anyone govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese?” (It was actually a gross underestimate on his part, as the total is well over 1,000.) She is dazzled by pastry shops with confections that are works of art.

While she has unreservedly committed to continuing through the 2026 Olympic season, Tennell did pause over the question of whether she would base herself in France through then.

She replied with the English version of an old Yiddish proverb, “Man plans, and God laughs.”

“I picked up that expression last year,” she said of the adage. “It’s part of my vernacular now.”

She needed no translation app to understand what those words mean. Sadly or not, experience had taught her well.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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