Bradie Tennell competes during Ladies Free Skating at the 2018 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Skate America on Oct. 21, 2018 in Everett, Wash\.
Some athletes are so focused and determined, they lift the games of those around them.
Take Bradie Tennell. When she moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to join the figure skating group at Broadmoor World Arena late this summer, her new rink mates kicked it up a notch or two.
“Every great skater there — and there are a lot of them — started working even harder, because of how hard Bradie works,” said Tom Zakrajsek, who has coached U.S. champions including Jeremy Abbott, Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt at the facility.
“Bradie isn’t aware of that, but I knew and several other coaches knew that even though we have hard-working athletes, they stepped it up when Bradie arrived. She is that type of presence.”
In turn, sharing the ice with skaters including reigning world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou and 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen, among others, invigorates Tennell.
“To have other athletes of (similar) caliber on the ice with me is competitive, in a good way,” she said. “We all motivate each other. We all want to be our best. Watching each other’s programs, we’re all able to cheer each other on and inspire each other to work harder.”
Many in the sport were surprised when Tennell left her home in a Chicago suburb and her longtime coach Denise Myers, who led her to the 2018 U.S. title and an Olympic team bronze medal at the PyeongChang Games.
The skater had strong performances last season, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final for the first time. She won the short program at the U.S. championships with a record score, although a fall in her free skate left her third overall behind Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell. A few weeks later, she skated two near-clean programs to a win bronze medal in a tough field at the 2020 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.
But it wasn’t enough. In a sport increasingly dominated by teenagers, the 22-year-old Tennell decided it was time to make a big move.
“It really wasn’t about what age I’m at,” she said. “I have goals I want to accomplish, and I needed to feel that I could grow, and I felt like I could do that here. I came to work with Tom for a week or two on my jumps, and then it just kind of evolved.”
Among those jumps is the triple axel, a three-and-a-half revolution move that has long been de rigueur for male skaters and is becoming more common among top women, including 17-year-old Alena Kostornaia of Russia, the European champion, and Japan’s 18-year-old Four Continents champion Rika Kihira. U.S. champion Liu, 15, routinely includes the triple axel in her programs.
Not only is the jump exciting to watch, it has a base value of 8 points, more than two points more than the next most difficult triple, the lutz. Plus, skaters who include triple axels and quads in their programs often seem to gain more generous program component scores from the judges for their overall performances.
“I knew I needed to make a change if I wanted to stay in the sport and progress,” Tennell said. “I feel I am not done in the sport. I love the sport and I know I have more to give to it. I felt like I needed to make a change for myself.”
After reaching out to Zakrajsek via email, Tennell and her mother, Jean, visited Colorado Springs in early August.
“The job she asked me to do was to work on the triple axel and give my opinion if she could do quads (four-revolution jumps),” Zakrajsek said. “She was so honest and open about herself, and what she needed to do to go to another Olympic Games. … I read it and thought, ‘If there is a work ethic to back up what she stated there, then there is no stopping her from getting (the triple axel).’”
When asked whether it’s possible for a skater in her twenties to learn new jumps, Zakrajsek pointed to his student Nagasu, who developed the triple axel in her early twenties. She landed it in her free skate in the team event in PyeongChang, the first U.S. woman to ever complete it at the Olympics.
“It is totally realistic, not pie in the sky,” he said. “We worked on all of her jumps to make them more efficient, tighter on the way up and with better control on the landing. … Most perfectionist athletes like many repetitions to feel confident, but that can lead to injury. When you are training a program and trying to learn a triple axel or quad, you can’t do that every day, every session. So a big goal is to help Bradie train in a way that helps her build confidence.”
The skater has already landed the jump in practice, he added, although a bit short of full rotation.
“That’s after only a short period of time,” Zakrajsek said. “I am really confident it is going to get clean, and it will be a beautiful triple axel that launches in the style of Mirai Nagasu and Alena Kostornaia. It won’t be a tiny, quick one that just spins. It will be a beautiful jump with a great arc.”