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Bradie Tennell captures second U.S. Figure Skating title

Bradie Tennell performs during the women's free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Las Vegas.  (Associated Press)
Bradie Tennell performs during the women's free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Las Vegas. (Associated Press)
Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Bradie Tennell is back on top of American figure skating.

The 22-year-old Olympian, who had finished second and third at the past two national championships, followed her rollicking short program with a rock-solid free skate Friday night at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Tennell hit all seven of her triple jumps to finish with 232.61 points, well clear of her closest rivals Amber Glenn and Karen Chen.

“I don’t even know where to start. I’m just so happy,” said Tennell, who has dealt with injuries and inconsistency since helping the U.S. win team bronze at the 2018 Winter Olympics. “That skate was everything I wanted to put out there. I was so happy and so grateful for everybody that helped me get here.”

Glenn finished with 215.33 points to edge 2017 champion Karen Chen by 0.35 points for the silver medal, while two-time and defending champion Alysa Liu struggled late in her program and finished in fourth.

Earlier in the day, Madison Chock and Evan Bates set a world record in the rhythm dance, scoring 90.10 points to edge Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue by less than a point in their first competition in nearly a year.

The U.S. championships were moved from San Jose, California, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No fans were allowed.

They sure missed an edge-of-your seat women’s free skate.

Glenn, who had never been on the podium at senior nationals, threw down the score to beat when she finished a sterling program to music from Italian composer Ezio Bosso with a solid triple lutz-double toe-double loop combination backed up by a triple loop-triple toe. Her stunning score put the 21-year-old from Plano, Texas, briefly into first place.

Liu, who was second to Tennell after the short program, left her triple axel and and quadruple lutz out of her program as she continues to adjust to a growth spurt and coaching change. And while Liu was sharp on her first jumping passes she shaky on her last three, and the 15-year-old’s score of 213.39 points left her in fourth place.

“I have a lot to work on still. Now that nationals is over I get to go back home and train again on the quads,” Liu said. “This was a very cool experience, especially because it’s like, the first live competition. I was really happy to be here.”

Tennell was next on the ice and – well, she left it all on the ice.

The only bobbles during her performance came on Tennell’s opening triple lutz-triple toe combination and finishing spin, when she looked so physically and mentally exhausted that she seemed to catch herself from collapsing. But she hopped right up and blew kisses to the cardboard cutouts in the stands, knowing that she had risen to the occassion.

The only skater that could catch Tennell was Mariah Bell, whose chances of winning her first U.S. title were dashed when she fell on her opening jump pass. Bell also stepped out on a triple loop and wound up finishing fifth.

Hubbell and Donohue, the two-time champions and reigning silver medalists, set an American record 89.66 points during their strong, sassy rhythm dance set to music from the film “Burlesque.” But they were eclipsed an hour later, when Chock and Bates earned Level 4 marks on every element but a twizzle sequence to music from “Kiss Me, Kate.”

The previous world record of 90.03 points was set by Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the 2019 NHK Trophy.

“It means that we’ve been doing the right thing and surrounding ourselves with the right people and training really well,” said Chock, who sustained a concussion that forced them to withdraw from Skate America. “Just enjoying ourselves, truly.”

Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, performing to a medley of swinging music, were in third place with 85.28 points as they try to improve on the bronze medal they earned each of the past two years.

The competition continues Saturday when Nathan Chen begins pursuit of his fifth straight national title in the men’s short program. Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier have a six-point lead over Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson headed into the pairs free skate, and the free dance wraps up the evening session.

“We’re really confident in our free dance,” Hubbell said after watching Chock and Bates perform Friday, “and it’s not over till it’s over. Now our focus turns to everything we can do to win back that title.”

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