Bradie Tennell skates at the Smucker's Skating Spectacular on Jan. 7, 2018 in San Jose, Calif.
A year ago, a hopeful Bradie Tennell selected Sergei Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” as the music for her Olympic year free program. That selection, combined with the choice of Korean composer Lee Dong-jun’s “Taegukgi” for the short, expressed something that was part wish, part goal: every time Tennell stepped onto the ice, her music reminded her of her Olympic hopes.
In fairy-tale fashion, the Olympic dream became a reality. In the space of four months between September 2017 and January 2018, Tennell rose from face in the American skating crowd to U.S. champion to lock for the Olympic team.
Today, eight months removed from the ball in PyeongChang, from which she returned home to Chicago with a team bronze medal, Tennell has a new piece of music. This season, she’ll be skating to “Rebirth,” by Hi-Finesse, which she’s using for her short program.
Coincidence? Not entirely.
“I came into this season with the idea I wanted to show that I’ve matured, that I’m more than a jumper, that I’ve reset myself a bit and can do something different,” the 20-year-old said this week. “That was kind of the idea with that (music).”
Tennell and her coach Denise Myers were well aware that PyeongChang is unlikely to be the apogee of her career. Tennell has carried the idea that she could accomplish more, especially after falls during both of her programs in the women’s individual competition in PyeongChang left her ninth overall.
Under a picture of herself performing with a smile on the Olympic ice posted to Instagram in March, she acknowledged goals accomplished and dreams realized. She also wrote: “This is only the beginning.”
For 2019, Tennell has upped the ante both technically and artistically, notably with her new triple lutz, triple loop combination, which earns her a significant extra 0.7 in base value from the judges. It’s a firecracker combination, but then jumping was always a strength. The real difference lies in the details.
“It’s really easy to look down at the ice or not finish a hand or arm movement,” she said. “I’ve really been working on my artistry and captivating the audience with my performance, and I’m very proud of the programs that I have this year. I think they’re really very exciting to watch.”
In the free skate, Cinderella gives way to Juliet, a more complex character whose emotions Tennell has worked hard to convey on the ice.
Traveling the country doing Stars on Ice in the wake of the Games and performing in sold-out arenas has helped speed up the artistic evolution. So has the occasional presence of Aljona Savchenko, the Olympic pairs gold medalist from Germany, on her home ice near Chicago. Savchenko is now coaching U.S. pair Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim, who divide their time between Oberstdorf, Germany, and the greater Chicago area, where Tennell hails from.
“It was my lack of toepoint that she commented on,” Tennell laughs. “It was one of those moments like, oh…”
At the Autumn Classic International in Ontario two weeks ago, Tennell debuted her new programs, both more sophisticated than what the Olympic hopeful skated to a year ago. She won the event, beating Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia with an international career best score.
“I have what I like to call my own lofty goals, and I have just goals that I want to hit in each performance when I go out on the ice,” Tennell said. The Autumn Classic goal was to put her programs out there and skate the way she was capable of. “I achieved that, and I was very happy with that,” she said.
The lofty goals include defending the U.S. title, and giving solid performances at the ISU Grand Prix Series events and beyond, with Tennell scheduled to compete at Skate America later this month and then the Internationaux de France in November.
A year ago, Tennell was thrilled just to be competing at these big-time events. Were she able to time travel and talk to her younger, less experienced self, “I would say, believe in yourself more,” Tennell said. “Because you don’t know what you’re capable of.”