By Alex Abrams | Jan. 24, 2020, 12:52 a.m. (ET)
Bradie Tennell skates in the women's short program at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 23, 2020 in Greensboro, N.C.

 

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Bradie Tennell didn’t feel like herself Thursday night. In fact, something hasn’t felt right with her for the past several days, and the issue involves more than just her badly swollen elbow.

Tennell, a 2018 U.S. Olympian, has looked and felt uncomfortable while skating in practice at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.

However, when Tennell heard her music — “Chronos/Mechanisms” by Kirill Richter — blare over the sound system inside the Greensboro Coliseum Complex. All of a sudden, her nerves settled down.

The Carpentersville, Illinois, native overcame her jitters and put together a record-breaking performance with her short program to head into Friday’s free skate in position to potentially capture her second national title in three years. She earned a score of 78.96, which is a personal best and set a U.S. championships record for a women’s short program in the current scoring system.

“I kind of just lost myself in the performance. I haven’t skated like myself all week,” Tennell said. “On the warm-up even, I felt really shaky and I just kind of used the time in between the warm-up and my skate to remind myself I do this every day. I don’t need to be nervous. I’m trained. I know what I have to do. I just have to go out there and skate, and then once the music started, it was like ‘All right, I can breathe a little bit.’”

Tennell was a member of the U.S. figure skating team that earned the bronze medal at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. She turns 22 on Jan. 31, and she already has something to celebrate.

Tennell broke her own short program record with Thursday’s performance. She set the previous women’s record with a 76.60 at the 2019 U.S. championships in Detroit, the first time the current scoring system was featured.

However, rising star Alysa Liu captured her first national title a year ago after earning a 143.62 in the free skate. Liu will again have to play catch-up on the second day of the U.S. championships.

Much of the talk heading into this week focused on Liu as she looked to defend her national title. The California teenager known for her massive jumping ability has quickly emerged as one of the new faces of U.S. figure skating — even though, at age 14, she’s not old enough to get a driver’s license.

But Liu was off to a rough start Thursday when she stumbled on her opening jump of the short program — a triple axel. She quickly recovered, though, while skating to “Don’t Rain On My Parade” by Barbra Streisand.

Download the Team USA app today to keep up with figure skating and all your favorite sports, plus access to videos, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, and more.

Liu stands in second place after posting a 75.40, and Mariah Bell is in third after scoring 73.22.

“I was happy with how I performed,” Liu said. “I did make a few mistakes, but you always learn from them and I’m going to stay focused for the long (program).”

Along with feeling nervous, Tennell admitted she has been battling an elbow injury for the past few months. She said the problem started after she suffered a bad fall while skating and hit her elbow on the wall. Her arm has been swelling off and on since then.

As if Tennell didn’t have enough to deal with, she said her elbow injury got worse as soon as she arrived in Greensboro.

“For some reason like this week, it got really swollen and really painful and I didn’t know why,” Tennell said. “(Wednesday) morning I woke up and I couldn’t bend my arm at all. So I went to the medical room and they gave me some antibiotics. … Let’s just say I’m very thankful that my mom is a nurse that’s worked in an ER for 25 years.”

Tennell has had success skating in Greensboro. She was crowned the U.S. junior champion the last time the city hosted the event in 2015, and she has put herself in contention to win another national title.

Meanwhile, Gracie Gold — a two-time U.S. champion who earned the team bronze medal at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 — continued her comeback with a up-and-down performance to Annie Lenox’s cover of “I Put a Spell On You.”

The crowd, however, was excited just see Gold back on the ice in her first appearance at the U.S. championships since 2017. She received a loud reception after her routine, which earned her a score of 54.51 to put her in 13th place after the short program.

Gold took a break from skating and sought treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder in the fall of 2017.

Alex Abrams has written about Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.