Bradie Tennell dazzled audiences to win her first national title at the 2018 U.S National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California on Friday night. Tennell tallied 219.51 points to win the event, 5.67 points ahead of second place finisher Mirai Nagasu. Karen Chen, who won the event a year ago and said she was ill for the past two days, finished third with 198.59 points.
“I’m so happy, I can’t believe it,” Tennell said on the NBC broadcast. “I really relied on my training. I’ve been doing clean programs all season. I really had a good base to go from. I think the sky is the limit for me.”
Ashley Wagner has been in this position before: Fourth at nationals, with three U.S. Olympic spots in on the line. In Sochi, the selection committee voted in Wagner’s favor, sending her to Sochi. She may not get so lucky this time, where she scored 196.19 points for this fourth place finish.
Tennell, who’s been waiting to skate to the “Cinderella” soundtrack since the live-action movie came out in 2015, has been living a Cinderella story of her own. She loves the movie, estimating she’s watched it at least 10 times, including on the flight to San Jose. She was the 2015 junior national champion, poised to be the next big thing, when she was hampered by vertebrae injuries in 2016 and 2017. She returned in earnest to competition this year; her biggest achievement prior to nationals was a surprise bronze medal at the Skate America Grand Prix.
The last time nationals were in San Jose, it was a very different story for Tennell. It was her novice-level debut at nationals, and she literally got lost on the ice.
“My first year in novice at nationals I skated out for my short program and I started on the wrong side of the ice and did the program the wrong way because there were no lines or hockey circles. I had never skated in a big stadium before and it was a really interesting experience for me,” she told IFS Magazine.
At those same 2012 San Jose nationals, Wagner won her first of three national titles. Karen Chen won the national title at the novice level.
Nagasu’s only national title came a decade ago, in 2008 – but don’t call her a veteran. She’s just 24 years old. She’s already been to one Olympics, the 2010 Vancouver Games, and finished just off the podium in fourth.
“I just wanna say, that 10 years is a long time,” she said after the short program in an interview with 2014 Olympic ice dance champion Charlie White. “It’s because I’m good that I’m still here. It takes a lot to be at this stage… When people tell me that I’m a veteran, I hate that word. I feel old, but I’m not old. I’m very young still!”
Wagner debuted a new “La La Land” free skate on Friday. She planned on using it for the Olympic season, but dropped it, preferring to go back to the familiarity of her “Moulin Rouge!” free skate. She had used it in two other seasons, including when she won a silver medal at 2016 Worlds, but chose to freshen things up by premiering “La La Land” at nationals.
In her senior nationals debut, 16-year-old Starr Andrews notched three personal bests in her short, free, and total overall scores. A clean short program and free skate brought her briefly into first place with a score of 189.91 points. She ultimately finished sixth, and walked off the ice after a receiving a standing ovation for her “One Moment in Time” free skate (the song used her own vocals, nonetheless) in tears of joy.
Also of note, 2014 Olympian Polina Edmunds withdrew from the free skate on Friday after finishing seventh in Wednesday’s short program. No reason was provided by U.S. Figure Skating, but she tweeted that her bone bruise flared up again.
After tonight’s free skate, the selection committee will meet to make their picks for the 2018 PyeongChang team. The U.S. can send three ladies to the Olympics, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be the podium top three. Likewise, just because someone wins nationals doesn’t automatically mean they’re going to PyeongChang next month.
The championships are not an official Olympic Trials event, but do count towards what U.S. Figure Skating Association calls a “body of work.” The Olympic selection committee will take into account the results of nationals, the fall 2017 Grand Prix Final and the series overall, plus additional competitions from the prior season. Based on all of this, the 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Team will be chosen to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.
The skaters should know if they are selected before they go to sleep – if they get to sleep at all – then at 8 a.m. ET on Saturday, a live announcement will be made on TODAY on NBC.
Competition continues Saturday afternoon with the pairs free skate live on NBC from 4-6 p.m. and the men’s free skate live on NBCSN from 8-11 p.m.