By Brandon Penny | Oct. 19, 2019, 6:06 a.m. (ET)
Bradie Tennell performs her short program at Skate America on Oct. 18, 2019 in Las Vegas.

 

LAS VEGAS – Bradie Tennell is like an onion.

At least that’s how the 2018 Olympian described herself when asked about the difference between the on-ice persona she showed in her short program at Skate America and the more reserved, stoic persona she presents off-ice to media and fans.

“The ice is like my safe space, I guess. It’s where I feel most at home. Allowing the side of myself that I am like off the ice with my family – a little bit more sarcastic, a little bit more funny – it’s almost like an onion, you have to peel back the layers, and I feel like that’s what I’m trying to do with my skating now,” Tennell said. “To show this program is a challenge for me but it’s a challenge that I welcome, and I was very excited to put this program out there because I’m very proud of it.”

That was the 21-year-old’s response when a reporter asked about the program he called “cheeky,” “intellectual” and even “angular.” In short, Tennell’s short program was captivating, one of her best and as good as it gets in a season debut.

Tennell leads the pack, deservingly so, following Friday night’s short with her score of 75.10, and is followed by Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto (73.25), the 2018 Four Continents champion and two-time reigning Skate America silver medalist, and 2018 world silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi (71.76). Karen Chen, after a season off due to injury, is sixth with 66.03, and Amber Glenn is seventh (64.71).

In the fourth grand prix assignment of her career, this is Tennell’s first time in first after either the short program or free skate, but that means very little to the unflappable skater.

“I feel like there’s always a lot of buzz about who’s in first after a short program, but I feel like every day is a new day and going into the long program, for me, it’s a clean slate and it’s a new day of competition,” she said. “Everyone’s on an even playing field.”

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Her short program to “Chronos/Mechanisims” by Kirill Richter is potentially her favorite of her career, but she almost skated what would have been the least favorite short of her career.

“The short program this year was actually a different program altogether,” Tennell explained. “I had it choreographed back in May, and I just really didn’t like it, I wasn’t comfortable with it, so when I was in [Courchevel, France] in early June, I told [Benoit Richaud] this just isn’t working, I don’t feel good about practicing it.

“I almost didn’t want to do it in practice because I was so uncomfortable with it.”

Richaud, her longtime choreographer, quickly found new music, and the rest is history.

“I immediately fell in love with it, I knew it was what I wanted to skate to – it was like, this is my music, let’s start now,” Tennell said. “I was so excited to find this piece of music and use it. I love this program.”

Also debuting a new program Friday was the ice dance team of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who also lead after the short dance in what was a stellar day for American skaters across the board.

Performing to “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” by Marilyn Monroe and “Let’s Be Bad” by Megan Hilty and the “Smash” cast, Hubbell and Donohue earned 84.97 points and are trailed by Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (81.91), and Canada’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen (79.17).

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko are sixth (70.41), and in their grand prix debut together Caroline Green and Michael Parsons are eighth (67.97).

 

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue perform their rhythm dance at Skate America on Oct. 18, 2019 in Las Vegas.

 

The reigning Skate America champions, Hubbell and Donohue approached the 2019-20 season in a different way from their previous eight seasons together. For the first time, the grand prix was their debut competition.

“Zach and I are so pleased to begin our season here at Skate America,” Hubbell said. “This is our first time ever jumping right into the grand prix season. I feel like we have so much progress to make on the program, but it was a great performance for today. It’s been really exciting for me to debut the Marilyn Monroe character – it’s something I’ve dreamed about skating to for many years, so it’s great to actualize that here in Las Vegas.”

Hubbell and Donohue first found the first half of their rhythm dance music five years ago. At the time, their coaches said they were not ready for it, but a lot has changed for the now two-time U.S. champions, two-time world medalists and 2018 Olympians.

“(Coach and choreographer) Romain (Haguenauer) said, ‘Madi, you have to be Marilyn,’ and I was happy with that because I’ve always dreamed about being able to portray her,” Hubbell said. “We looked up music from “Smash,” both Broadway and TV, and that’s the music for our second piece.

“But we really wanted to portray Marilyn in Marilyn’s voice, so we took the classic, started from there with her voice, and then brought it into a more modern piece of music that could end on a strong, musical note. It’s a lot of energy, a lot of fun. We feel like there’s a lot more development in the characters of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, so we’re excited to keep exploring that dynamic.”

For the second consecutive season, Hubbell and Donohue will turn around and compete their second grand prix – Skate Canada in Kelowna, British Columbia – one week after their first.

“We were very happy with our first performance because we went for it, and that’s what you can control,” said Hubbell. “But certainly when we were finished we felt like we left a lot on the table. We practiced stronger than that, we felt like we had been stronger than that in the competition practices here and I got off the ice hungry for next week.”