Column: Bradie Tennell wins her first U.S. women’s figure skating title; Mirai Nagasu is second

Bradie Tennell performs during the women's long program on Friday night at the U.S. figure skating championships.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

And now, the suspense.

Bradie Tennell all but assured herself of a berth on the U.S. women’s figure skating team at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics by winning her first national title Friday night, skating flawlessly at SAP Center to “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” She has loved the Cinderella fairytale since she was 2 years old. Now, she’s living it.

“I really don’t think it’s sunk in quite yet,” the 19-year-old from Carpentersville, Ill., said after capping an overnight success story that, like so many cases of “instant” fame, actually happened over a number of sometimes-tedious years. “I’m still kind of shocked.”

But beyond the technically proficient and consistent Tennell, who reeled off seven triple jumps on Friday, the Olympic picture remained murky as U.S. Figure Skating’s international selection committee gathered to weigh the results of the event and of each skater’s body of work over the past year. The decision was to be announced at about 5 a.m. PST Saturday on the “Today” show.


If there’s any justice, Tennell should lead the delegation after totaling 219.51 points. She should be accompanied by Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia, who made the 2010 U.S team and was passed over in 2014 in favor Ashley Wagner, yet persevered and became a better skater.

Nagasu, who won the U.S. title in 2008 as a sprite of 14, finished second here with 213.84 points, not quite nailing her risky triple axel jump in either of her two programs but still among the few women in the world who have landed it while trying to advance the sport. “I really feel like the comeback kid,” Nagasu said.

The third berth should go to 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen, who had negative grades of execution on four jumps Friday but fought off an illness to finish third with 198.59 points. “I’m proud of myself for fighting and using every inch of strength that I have within me to keep fighting, keep going and keep pushing,” said Chen, who consulted with an acupuncturist and sports psychologist to heal her body and her mind.

Which brings us to Wagner, a three-time U.S. champion. The 26-year-old, who trains at Lakewood Ice, finished fourth at the 2014 national championships but was sent to Sochi instead of Nagasu because of her stronger international resume. Wagner, fourth here with 196.19 points, might not be as lucky again. She contended the judges undermarked her program components — subjective scores of performance, interpretation, skating skills, composition and transitions — and said she deserves an Olympic spot.

“I’m furious. I’m absolutely furious. I know when I go and I lay it down, and I absolutely left one jump on the table,” she said, referring to an underrotated triple lutz, “but for me to put out two programs that I did at this competition as solid as I skated and to get these scores, I am furious and I think deservedly so.”

But she also said, “you could always say that I put myself in this spot,” and that’s true. She changed her long program to music from “La La Land” about six weeks ago, but she didn’t doubt her decision. “I delivered something that was solid and something that I’m proud of,” she said. “I want to be on the Olympic team and I’m really mad that I’m in this position again.”


Starr Andrews of Los Angeles, 16, finished an eye-opening sixth after her performance to her own recording of “One Moment in Time” earned the fifth-best long program score. It was an enthralling moment but not an Olympic one for her, though that may come in time.

Earlier in the day, the brother-sister duo of Maia and Alex Shibutani performed a spirited short dance to lead after the first part of the ice-dance event. The defending champs earned 82.33 points, followed by Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (79.10) and Madison Chock and Evan Bates (77.61). The U.S. can send three duos to Pyeongchang, and there’s an outside chance one will win a medal.

Of the top three here so far, only Hubbell and Donohue haven’t won a U.S. title. Their hunger to change that is immense. “Imagine you’ve been in a desert without water for how many years have we been together? Six years,” Donohue said. “That will give you a bit of an idea.”

The men’s event will conclude Saturday. Nathan Chen, who did two quadruple jumps to earn 104.45 points in the top-ranked short program, plans to do five quads in his long program. He will skate last in the 21-man field. Adam Rippon, second with 96.52 points, has one quad planned for his long program. Jason Brown, overscored at 93.23 after underrotating his triple axel in his short program, also has one quad planned and will skate 20th.

Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen