Home News Figure Skater Bradie...

Figure Skater Bradie Tennell Hopes Mile-High Move Pays Off With Triple Axel

By Lynn Rutherford | Oct. 01, 2020, 1:39 p.m. (ET)

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.”

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.

Bradie Tennell

Tennell thinks not only her pursuit of the triple axel, but her overall skating has improved since the move to Colorado Springs. In addition to Zakrajsek, she works with former U.S. competitor Ryan Jahnke, whose edge classes and exercises help with both the triple axel technique and basic stroking.

“It was refreshing, because I was being told things in a different way, and some things I had not heard before,” Tennell said. “(Zakrajsek) sees jumps different than a lot of people do and he’s able to explain them. It was very different for me, just a new way of looking at things. I’ve kind of latched on to it and am really enjoying the process.

“I feel like I’ve made progress in every aspect of my skating,” she added. “Not just in the jumps, but in the programs and (basic) skating as well.”

Away from the rink, mom Jean has done most of the work setting the two up in an apartment, leaving Bradie free to concentrate on axels and edges. Her younger brothers, Austin and Shane, are both attending college.

“It’s been really great having my mom out here,” Tennell said. “She’s been able to take over (the domestic) part of it, and I’m able to focus on training.”

Practicing in Colorado Springs’ notorious mile-high altitude, while difficult at first, has its compensations.

“The scenery is beautiful,” she said. “One of the first weekends, my mom and I  went to the Garden of the Gods park, and we hiked all over and saw a bunch of stuff.”

Tennell debuted her new routines, including a short program set to Florence and the Machine’s “Moderation” and free skate to a medley including Max Richter’s haunting “Sarajevo,” as part of U.S. Figure Skating’s International Selection Pool (ISP) Points Challenge. (In this virtual competition, skaters performed their programs in front of proctors at their home rinks, then sent them to U.S. Figure Skating to be judged by a remote panel. Fans can view the programs on demand at U.S. Figure Skating’s Fan Zone.)

Both were choreographed with Benoit Richaud, a former ice dancer who has worked with Tennell for several years. Richaud lives in France, so he and Tennell had their sessions via video call.

“He has an artistic vision of the theme he wants, where he wants the program to go,” Tennell said. “He’s very happy about my programs. I sent him a video the other day, and he’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not bad.’ I’m like, ‘Wow, high praise there, Benoit.’ It’s nice to have the ability to call him and say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working, what can we change?’”

The skater did not attempt a triple axel in either of her programs for the ISP Challenge. She did include triple lutz-triple loop, a difficult jump combination she did not try last season. A fall on the combination in her short program, plus a few unsteady jumps in her free, put her second overall behind U.S. silver medalist Bell.

Zakrajsek isn’t reading too much into this early-season event, looking ahead to Skate America, where he hopes Tennell will compete. It takes place live Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas, although no fans will be in attendance.

“She did the ISP Challenge, most likely (will do) Skate America and she has signed up to do one of the Champion Series (U.S. qualifying events),” he said. “We have a plan in place for her to put (the triple axel) out at strategic events, where it doesn’t do any harm (should she miss it), so she gets the experience with it.”

As for Tennell, while she’s looking forward to someday resuming a normal competition schedule, she also sees some advantages in sticking close to home.

“It’s kind of good to be home and reset and just train,” she said. “I really enjoy the training process, so I think that’s one of the positives that has come out of this.”

Lynn Rutherford

Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Related Athletes

head shot

Bradie Tennell

Figure Skating