ANAHEIM, Calif. – Bradie Tennell has a combination complication.
“It seems I only mess up my (triple) lutz/(triple) loop during competition,” she said with a wry laugh. “I have no words because it’s so frustrating.”
Tennell also doesn’t have the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships medal she wanted after dropping from first place to fifth after the free skate Friday night.
The 2018 Olympian landed the triple lutz, but then managed only a single loop. She also was penalized with under-rotations on four triple jumps.
At last month's U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Tennell also missed the lutz/loop combination, which doomed her chance of repeating as gold medalist. She settled for silver behind 13-year-old Alysa Liu, who is too young to compete internationally at the senior level.
With next month’s world championships in Saitama, Japan, Tennell must decide whether to keep the combination, which is her second element in the free skate.
“I would love to keep it in there for worlds because I know I can do it,” said Tennell, who turned 21 eight days ago. “I do it every day, so there’s clearly no excuse for me to not do it during competition.”
Friday night’s competition was anticlimactic for Team USA as Mariah Bell, who had been in third place, dropped to sixth and Ting Cui fell from seventh to 11th.
Japan took three of the top four spots as three skaters who placed fifth or lower in the short program leapfrogged onto the podium.
Rika Kihira, skating to “Beautiful Storm” soared into first place out of fifth. The Grand Prix Final champion landed a triple axel, as well as seven other triple jumps for a score of 153.14. Her total was 221.99 points.
Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan, who had been in sixth after the short, finished with 207.46 points.
Mai Mihara of Japan, who had such a poor short program that she was eighth, had the second-best free skate to take third with 207.12 points, followed closely by teammate Kaori Sakamoto, who fell from second to fourth with 206.79 points. Mihara was the Four Continents gold medalist in 2017 and silver medalist last year.
Tennell had 202.07 points, well ahead of Bell who finished with 193.94. Tennell also had the fifth-best free skate with 128.16 and Bell had the sixth best with 123.92.
Cui had the 14th-best free skate and a score of 164.84 (98.11 in the free skate).
This was the second straight year Team USA was shut out of the women’s medals. Mirai Nagasu won a bronze in 2017.
Tennell does go home with the “small” medal for winning the short program. “I’m very grateful for that,” she said.
Despite such a solid short, Tennell said she "felt kind of shaky out there” during the long program skated to “Romeo and Juliet.”
Why? “I don’t know – maybe nerves,” she said. “That’s not something that normally happens to me, so it’s kind of something new that I had to deal with out there. But you live and you learn. You make the best of what happened and keep going.”
Tennell, who is still relatively new to the senior circuit after bursting onto the scene last season, said she wasn’t affected by the pressure of leading in her Four Continents debut
“I think every day is a new game,” said the Illinois native. “It’s a blank slate. It starts over. I think I got a little too caught up in my head out there, thinking too much. I need to just rely on my training and get out there and do it.”
Tennell said she needs to be more confident at worlds. “I think I second-guess myself a little bit too much,” she said. “And I think sometimes that’s what happens out there and why I maybe hesitate a little bit too much and it throws me off a little bit.”
Mariah Bell had an even rougher outing. Skating to music from “The Piano,” she fell on her second element, the triple loop, and her hopes began slipping away in the first minute.
Bell, whose fall on her triple lutz at nationals relegated her to third place, doubled that jump at the Honda Center. She looked exasperated while skating before what is essentially a home crowd since she trains nearby.
She did land a triple lutz later and made it a combination, but she had her hands on her hips and was not smiling when the music stopped.
“It’s really special to have an international event on home soil, so I’m bummed about the long,” said Bell, 22. “I wish I could have skated a little better, but it’s been kind of a long two, three weeks, so I did the best that I could.”
She said with such a short turnaround after nationals two weeks ago in Detroit she didn’t have time to train her free skate as well as she would have liked.
“You go from having a high at a competition, you have to come down a little bit, but we kind of went right back up,” Bell said. “So, it’ll be nice going into worlds to have time to recover before training hard.”
After a few days off, Bell said, “I think I will be refreshed and ready to train for worlds.”
Cui, skating to “Giselle,” had the worst night of all. She had three falls on triple jumps, landing particularly hard on two of them.
After a splendid free skate at nationals, which pulled Cui up from 12th after the short program to fifth overall, this was the complete opposite.
Dejected, she stood at center ice at the end of the program.
“The program kind of just got away from me,” said Cui, 16. “It’s definitely not the performance I was hoping for or training for, but I’ll learn from it.”
She’ll go on to the world junior championships, so can finish the season on a high note.
Cui said her coach, Tom Zakrajsek, told her “that was not what I can do. It’s obviously far from my best and even my norm, but just keep on working to be better next time.”
Cui, who was competing in her first senior international competition, hasn’t decided yet if she will compete as a senior in the next grand prix season.
“Overall I would say it’s a learning experience for me and definitely there were highs and lows,” she said, “but I’m going to take what I can out of it to better work toward next time.”