LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- A few days ago, it would have been a safe bet to project either Karen Chen or Ashley Wagner would land on the podium at this weekend’s 2017 Bridgestone Skate America. Or both.
Chen is the 2017 U.S. champion and finished fourth at the 2017 world championships, while Wagner is the 2016 world silver medalist and reigning Skate America champion.
What almost no one expected was for the third U.S. entry, Bradie Tennell, to be the lone U.S. woman standing on the podium.
When the event was over Sunday evening, the 19-year-old Tennell found herself with a bronze medal and one of the most memorable grand prix debuts a senior skater could have. You read that right – this was Tennell’s first appearance at a senior-level grand prix event.
“My goal was to soak up as much of the experience as I could and really put it all out there, and I think I accomplished that,” Tennell said of her hopes for her first grand prix.
Japan’s Satoko Miyahara earned the gold with a total score of 214.03, while her teammate Kaori Sakamoto was second with 210.59. Chen finished eighth with a score of 182.80 while Wagner, sixth after the short, withdrew in the middle of her free skate. She was suffering from a right ankle infection that was diagnosed just over a week ago.
All three of Tennell’s scores – 67.01 for the short, 137.09 in the free and 204.10 total – were personal bests.
With the bronze, Tennell becomes the first U.S. woman since Caroline Zhang in 2007 to medal at her grand prix debut.
Performing her short program to music from the film “Taeguki” by Lee Dong-Jun and a free skate to a “Cinderella” medley by Patrick Doyle, Tennell skated two clean programs in Lake Placid, which included nine triples.
It would be dubbed a dream competition for many skaters, but proved to be just another day at the office for Tennell.
“You know, I felt really prepared so I kind of just went out there and did what I’ve been training to do,” she said of her performances.
Just as the even-keel Tennell was not overly ecstatic about her result, neither was her coach, Denise Myers.
“No, it’s really what she does every day,” Myers said when asked if she was surprised by her pupil’s performances. “She works hard, she stays focused… Pretty much this is what I see each day. She really does skate clean programs each day.”
It had been a while since Tennell’s body allowed her to be that consistent. After making a name for herself by winning the 2015 U.S. junior title, Tennell’s training was limited for two straight seasons with stress fractures to her lower back vertebrae suffered in May 2015 and June 2016.
Now that she’s back to full health and has shown the world what she’s capable of, there’s talk of whether she can podium – or even win – at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January.
“I do (allow myself to dream about it), but I like to take things one day at a time,” Tennell said. “So I focus on what’s in the present and leave that in the future.”
Myers was more optimistic, saying, “It could happen. Somebody’s going to win, right?”
With that comes talk of making the Olympic team. The U.S. will send a team of three women and right now it’s anyone’s guess who will be selected. The team is chosen based on a skater’s body of work from the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, with events placed into tiers. The top tier includes the 2018 U.S. championships, 2017 world championships and 2017 Grand Prix Final, which no U.S. woman qualified for.
The 2017 grand prix events are in the second tier, and only two U.S. women medaled at any of the six grand prix events this season – Wagner earned bronze at Skate Canada, and then there’s Tennell.
While Tennell was coy on this topic as well, saying she will continue to take training one day at a time, Myers was more vocal about the notion of seeing Tennell shine in PyeongChang come February.
“Anything’s possible for her,” Myers said. “She hasn’t yet reached her peak and anything’s possible.”