It was a night of fairy tales and shattered dreams at the 2018 U.S. Championships. The senior ladies competition, for better or worse, seems to manufacture earigh drama especially in an Olympic season. Last night, each athlete stated one final case for selection for the Olympic Winter Games team.
Bradie Tennell, a fresh-faced 19 year-old from suburban Chicago made perhaps the most compelling case. After winning the bronze medal at Skate America in Lake Placid in November, she was suddenly in the conversation to win the title here in San Jose. The last skater of the competition, Tennell performed a near-perfect routine to John Doyle’s “Cinderella,” a piece she said she has loved since age 2.
Tennell opened her free skate with a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, and added five more triple jumps on the way to her coronation. Her lone mistake was a barely noticeable under-rotation on a double Axel midway through the program. Despite the error, Tennell remained calm, as she has been all week long.
“I believe in a good challenge — I am not one to back down from something because it is hard,” Tennell said. “I enjoy performing — especially this program. It’s very close to my heart, and I think it showed.”
Ninth in this competition a year ago, Tennell earned 145.72 points, and racked up 219.51 overall. She leaves the competition, not with a fitted glass slipper, but perhaps the gold medal around her neck will suffice.
After years of frustration and being left off of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, 24 year-old Mirai Nagasu captured the silver medal, serving notice that she wanted to be on the Olympic squad.
“Wow. I’m usually not one to be at a loss for words. I am super happy with how things have gone,” she said after the competition. “With mistakes, I scored the highest that I’ve scored at a U.S. Championships, and right now I’m super proud of myself.”
Though she was not perfect, the 2008 national champion showed great maturity and courage in her “Miss Saigon” routine. As in Wednesday’s short program, Nagasu opened with a flawed triple Axel, but recomposed herself to land six more triple jumps. A seventh — a triple Lutz attempt was under-rotated. Nagasu netted 140.75 points in the free skate, and earned a career-best 213.84 points in total.
“I think I am really happy with where I am right now tonight. I think I put in my vote for the Olympic team,” she said. “I was very unhappy with the ‘If you make the Olympic team. That’ll be eight years in between — that’s a long time.’ And I know that.”
Last year’s champion, Karen Chen, took the final spot on the podium, capturing the bronze medal with a valiant effort after struggling illness on Thursday. “I am extremely proud of what I got done tonight. I was actually very sick yesterday. I must’ve caught a virus. I was stuck in bed all day and couldn’t do my practices,” Chen explained in the post-competition press conference.
“I spent the whole day with the doctors, one after another. I was in so much pain and I was extremely worried because I wanted to feel 100 percent today and be able to skate my absolute best with no regrets. But I really took the day to focus on my mental health, visualize the perfect skate and focus on the positives, and just keep pulling the positive energy out of myself.”
Chen was a technical mess and received credit for just three triple jumps in her recycled “Carmen” program. Known for cheated jumps, the bronze medalist was dinged with three under-rotation calls and a downgraded triple Salchow attempt. The 18 year-old earned 129.11 points for the free, ranked fourth best of the night, and finished the competition with 198.59 points overall.
“I think I did whatever I could to prove myself,” she said. “Whatever is left is left for other people to decide my fate. I’m just really proud of what I could do.”
For the third Olympic season in a row, Ashley Wagner finished fourth, one spot outside of the number of berths available.
Wagner debuted her much-anticipated “La La Land” free skate to mixed reviews. Though she attacked the program with her usual come-from-behind attitude, it appeared as if she was not yet fully invested in the character she was trying to create. The program did include five clean triple jumps — including a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, but a popped triple Salchow snatched away her chance of standing on the podium instead of Chen. Wagner placed third in the free with 130.25 points, and earned196.19 points overall.
“I’m furious. I am absolutely furious,” Wagner fumed after the free. “I know when I go and I lay it down, and absolutely I left one jump on the table, but for me to put out the two programs that I did at this competition, as solid as I skated, and to get those scores, I am furious, and I think deservedly so.
“Even though I’m mad about my score, that program was such an experience for me and I skated with heart,” she said. “I took a program that’s a month old, and I delivered something that was solid and something that I’m proud of. It definitely can use a little bit more legwork, but that’s because it’s a month old, and I made the right call and I had no doubts that “La La Land” was the program that was going to get me where I wanted to be.”
Last year’s bronze medalist, Mariah Bell finished in fifth place with 192.34 points, while first year senior, Starr Andrews, moved up from eighth to finish sixth with 189.91 points. Angela Wang, fourth after the short program, dropped to seventh with 188.01 points.
The top three ladies were subsequently named to represent the U.S. at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.