Chen Tennell

The 2019 Grand Prix Series kicked off in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Friday afternoon, complete with Elvis impersonator flower retrievers, and world-class figure skating.

THE LADIES

Bradie Tennell of the U.S. withstood the challenge from a strong field of ladies to take the lead with a career high score of 75.10. After being sidelined with a foot injury during the off-season, this was a major confidence boost for the 2018 Olympian.

Tennell executed her technical elements with ease, capturing level fours on her spins and steps. Her jumps — a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a solo flip, and a double Axel — were clean and effortless. But it was her interpretation of her “Mechanisms/Chronos” – equal parts angular, intellectual, and even at times, a bit cheeky by Kirill Richter – that was most impressive.

“Tonight, I was really happy with my skate especially after my injury and working my way back to full training,” Tennell said. “I went out there with the mindset of doing what I do everyday in practice and not trying to make anything any better or certainly any worse. I wanted to enjoy myself, be relaxed and perform. To show this program is a challenge for me but one that I welcome. I was very excited to put this program out there because I’m proud of it.”


Sitting in second place is Japanese champion Kaori Sakamoto, who was equally impressive in her “No Roots” program by Alice Merton. Sakamoto opened with a strong triple flip-triple toe loop combination, but could not keep pace with Tennell in the grade of execution scores. She finished the evening with 73.25 points.

“I came to this competition with not a lot of confidence,” Sakamoto said. “The program turned out much better than I expected, and I will continue to work hard to improve my confidence and my performance for the rest of the season.”

Sakamoto’s teammate, Wakaba Higuchi finished in third place with 71.76 points. Since capturing the silver medal at the 2018 World Championships in Milan, Higuchi has struggled with injuries and subpar performances.

Higuchi’s “Bird Set Free” (Sia) routine featured a triple Lutz-triple toe loop, an element that she struggled with in the six-minute warm up. As the program went on, Higuchi seemed to grow in confidence, something that has been absent in her skating the last year or so.

“I was really happy that I was able to skate a clean program for the first time in a long time,” Higuchi said. “But I believe I left a few points on the table so I want to continue to practice hard so that I can continue to improve,” she said. “I have to say that this is probably the first time in two years that I was able to perform at this level. I have not been able to practice or compete with confidence, and tonight I will give myself a perfect mark of 100 points for the effort that I put forth.”

The two Russian ladies who were expected to dominate this competition each made mistakes that kept them out of the top three. Anna Shcherbekova, the reigning World Junior silver medalist finished in fourth place in the short program in her senior Grand Prix debut with 67.70 points. Teammate and former World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva sits in fifth with 67.28 points despite landing a solid opening triple Axel. A disastrous performance left Stanislava Konstantinova in 11thplace with 48.27 points.



THE MEN

Two-time and reigning World champion Nathan Chen opened his 2019-2020 campaign in impressive fashion, earning 102.71 points for his “La Boheme” short program. The Yale sophomore opened the routine with a quad Lutz, intended to be in combination with a triple toe loop, but after an unsteady landing, Chen opted to tack the jump onto a quad toe loop later in the program.

“I’m not entirely happy with how the program went. However, since this is the first outing, I’m pretty okay with how things went,” Chen said. “I’m looking forward to competing tomorrow and hopefully cleaning up some of the mistakes I made today and keep moving forward.”

Russia’s Dmitri Aliev sits in second place behind Chen with 96.57 points. The 20-year-old opened with an easy quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, and other than a fought-for landing on a quadruple toe loop, he was in total control of the program.

Skating to “Je Dors Sur Des Roses” by Mikelangelo Loconte, Aliev almost matched Chen on the technical mark, but fell behind on the program component scores. He is in a virtual tie with Canada’s Keegan Messing who is just 0.23 points behind.

“Overall I am pretty pleased with my performance today,” Aliev said. “I enjoyed performing for the American crowd today, and they were very supportive of me. There was a small mistake on the quad toe and also a little mistake on a spin, and maybe that affected my score, but overall I am pretty satisfied.”

In his first competition since losing his younger brother in a motorcycle accident last month, Messing skated an inspired performance to Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” a program that was crafted as a love letter of sorts to his new wife, Lane. Though he performed with his heart on his sleeve, Messing also put out the technical goods, including a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination to open the program. He heads into the free skate with a career-high 96.34 points.


“Coming here this week was a huge decision for me with everything that has happened,” Messing said. “Every day has been a struggle. Every day in the rink we have been mainly focusing on cardio, just making sure that if I did come here and anything happened, I could just fall back on my training. I felt like this being dedicated to my wife, especially today, was a good distraction, and tomorrow I will just take everything one step at a time. I have a great support system here — my wife, my parents and some friends are here and really this is the best of a bad situation.  I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to be around me.”

Jason Brown popped his triple Axel attempt, and sits in fourth place with 83.45 points.

THE PAIRS

The pairs took to the ice first with China’s Cheng Peng and Yang Jin standing atop the leaderboard at the end of the competition. Despite a tentative performance of their “Allegria” (Circque du Soleil) program, Peng and Jin were strong on the technical elements. A step out by Peng on the opening triple toe loop was the only visible error for the duo. However, the program lacked cohesion and attack.

Cheng and Jin earned 72.73 points, just 1.48 ahead of the young Russian team of Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin.

“For today’s performance, there were a couple of small issues and we didn’t get all level fours,” Jin said. “But we are pretty satisfied with our performance.”

The 2018 World Junior champions, Pavliuchenko and Khodykin skated their “The Storm” (Havasi) program without a major error, but had a couple of small bobbles that perhaps cost them the lead. They earned 71.25 points for their efforts. “Overall that was a normal performance for us, and obviously there is always room to grow,” Pavliuchenko said. “We made a little mistake in the step sequence, but the free program is yet to come.”

American champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc had perhaps the most polished program of the day, but were unable to capitalize on their hard work after Cain-Gribble fell on the throw triple Lutz in the middle of the program. Still, the duo skated with confidence in their “A Storm is Coming” (Tommee Profitt featuring Liv Ash) program, and ended the day with 68.20 points. “It was honestly just a small technical error,” Cain-Gribble said. “I tapped a little under, so it went up sideways. So I was under for the air position to land, and it landed on the right side. As soon as I watched the video in the kiss and cry, I knew what I needed to fix and will do that for tomorrow. There’s no issue with the throw Lutz, I’ve been doing it for four seasons now.”


“We’re building toward the World Championships, and we’ve been very outspoken about our goal to be in the top five at Worlds,” LeDuc added. “We’re building, and I think we’re really right on track for what we want. To have a big mistake in the program and still have a 68 is really awesome. We’re in a good place and excited to go into the free skate as well.”

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier of the U.S. finished in fourth place with 65.14 points

ICE DANCE

The ice dance competition marked the season debut for Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and it was a promising start for the reigning World bronze medalists. The Americans earned the highest score of any competitors this season thus far (84.97) with their Marilyn Monroe inspired program.

The duo knew that it was a gamble to delay their season’s debut until their Grand Prix Series, but wanted to make sure they had ample opportunity to rest as they push towards the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

“I’m not sure that it was risky to wait until now to compete,” Hubbell said. “Regardless of how well you prepare, levels can vary from panel to panel, and you don’t perform them the same at every event. Going forward our end goal is the Olympics in 2022, and wanted to take more time off this summer to take a real vacation, to rest, and to fully prepare for this season.”

Finishing in second place was the Russian team of Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who performed a powerful program to music from the soundtrack of “Moulin Rouge.” The reigning European silver medalists could not keep pace with the Americans in terms of technical content (they earned a level two for the Finn Step), and fell behind by more than two points on the technical components. Stepanova and Bukin finished with 81.91, the second highest score this season.

“We are very happy to be here in Las Vegas,” Stepanova said. “This is our first competition of the season, and it is our first time competing this program in front of an audience. We have lots that we can improve, but overall we are happy with our performance.”

Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørenson finished in third place with their well received “Bonnie and Clyde” Broadway musical routine. The duo earned a level two on their opening diagonal step sequence, but entertained the crowd with a fun take on the outlaw lovers. They finished the competition with 79.17 points.

“This is our first Grand Prix event after sitting out last season, so we had no expectations,” Fournier Beaudry said. “We were excited to enjoy the experience of competing at this level once again, and we were just happy to be here today.”

Olivia Smart and Adrià Díaz of Spain finished in fourth place with 76.62 points.