A cool and confident Bradie Tennell scored a big upset at the Autumn Classic International in Oakville, Ontario on Friday night, defeating two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia by 1.72 points to win her first-ever senior international title.
“I had a bit of a rough warm-up, so I’m really glad I was able to come back out there and do what I normally do,” Tennell said. “Obviously, there are some improvements that can be made, but overall I’m really happy with it, because it’s just the first one of the season.”
The U.S. champion, sixth in the world last season, has set an ambitious goal: “I want to be a whole new skater, unrecognizable from last season,” she said at U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp last month. Performing her free skate to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Benoit Richaud, she was more expressive and elegant, with angular movements and staccato footwork.
Famed for her consistent jumps, Tennell landed seven mostly solid triples including two triple-triple combinations, although two jumps were judged short of rotation. The program scored 137.16 points, bringing her total to 206.41.
“I’ve always loved (Romeo and Juliet) and I think it’s a very mature piece,” Tennell said. “There is so much feeling behind it. It’s obviously a very tragic story. There was a lot to do there as far as interpretation and choreography.”
At this time last year, Bradie Tennell was unknown to all but the most steadfast followers of figure skating.
On Friday night, she made her season debut as defending U.S. champion and 2018 Olympic medalist and put on a display of power, grace and her trademark clean routine and won the gold medal at the Autumn Classic International in Ontario, Canada.
Tennell, 20, was second after the short program, trailing only two-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva, of Russia, by just 1.72 points.
Tennell’s free skate to “Romeo & Juliet” by Tchaikovsky showcased her tenacity and technical prowess, as she cleanly landed jump after jump, including a triple lutz-triple loop combination, as well as intricate footwork and transition elements and ended with a beautiful spinning sequence to earn her an international personal best of 137.15 for the program and 206.41 total.
Go behind the scenes of the SKATING magazine cover shoot with 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell! Read a preview of the cover story and the latest on Team USA on the Fan Zone:
Tennell insisted she is not feeling the heat after a 2018 season that began with her as a little-known outsider and ended with her as the country’s top woman singles skater, having decisively won last season’s U.S. title and then been the highest finisher of three U.S. woman at the Olympics (ninth) and the world championships (sixth).
With three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner and 2018 Olympian Mirai Nagasu on (permanent?) competitive hiatus and the third 2018 Olympian, Karen Chen, struggling with an injury and lingering confidence issues, Tennell’s national pre-eminence going into this season looks even greater.
“I don’t think about the fact that I’m the leading lady for the U.S.,” Tennell said. “That’s kind of extra stuff. Focusing on what I am there to do is the best thought process for me.
“In the back of my mind, I know I am in a different position. The biggest change is that I’m more known. There is good and bad to that, but it’s exciting.”
The downside is there is no more hiding in the weeds, as Tennell was able to do before winning a bronze medal in her senior Grand Prix debut over last Thanksgiving weekend at Skate America. The skating world now expects things from her, and it has been paying attention to her successes and struggles so far this season.
Tennell began it in Canada with two solid skates, marred only by minor errors, that led to her upset win over reigning Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia at September’s Autumn Classic International, a Challenger Series event. Two weeks later, at the free-skate-only Japan Open team event, some slightly more consequential mistakes left her fourth – but within shouting distance of second in a good field as Olympic champion Alina Zagitova of Russia was a runaway winner.
Two weeks after that, at October’s Skate America, first of the six Grand Prix series “regular season” events, she had a huge mistake in the short program, popping (singling) the second jump in her planned triple lutz-triple loop combination. “I was like, ‘What did you just do?’” she recalled. “I hate popping. It drives me crazy.”
She followed that with an underwhelming free skate, with three lesser errors, and wound up fourth. To have a shot at the Grand Prix Final, she likely needs a win in her second Grand Prix, the season-ending Internationaux de France Thanksgiving weekend in Grenoble.
#BradieTennell: My coach and I have been together a long time so I think she knows what works best for me. Recently I’ve tried to take my skating more into my own hands and hold myself more accountable, to prevent injury and better express myself
Bronze medal at GP France for @bradie_tennell 🇺🇸 So proud of you, and i know you are still far from what you want and can... so now lets go back to WORK 🔥
Final results of the Ladies competition at #IFP2018
Tennell: It was a bit challenging. It didn’t go quite the way I expected it to or hoped it would. I think I learned a lot and there were some very valuable lessons that I’m glad that happened. Looking forward, I know how to better handle some situations now because of the year that I had. I’m just really grateful for all the experiences. Of course, my skate at worlds was everything that I wanted to do all season. So, I was really happy with that.
NBC Sports: It sounds like now is a good time in the quad to maybe learn those things.
Tennell: For sure. If it was any time to happen, I did it at the right time.
NBC Sports: What were some of those lessons?
Tennell: Not to let the unexpected bring me down. When I’m out there, just trust myself more, not have so much self-doubt. Because I know I’m trained. When I go to competition, I’m trained, I’m ready. I know what I’m doing. This year, when I stepped on the ice, I started second-guessing myself. That’s where some of those under-rotations came from. So then of course the self-doubt crept in even further. It’s cyclical. I think I need to believe in myself and keep that confidence moving forward.
NBC Sports: Where does that get the worst for you? Does it happen mid-program, if things start to fall apart? Before the music starts?
Tennell: I think it’s right before the music starts. In that second or two of absolute dead silence, all those thoughts come racing into your head. You’re like, “No! I’ve got this!”
NBC Sports: Looking ahead, have you started looking at music? Will you work with choreographer Benoit Richaud again?
Tennell: Yes, I will be working with Benoit again. I am looking for music. That’s very challenging for me – just because I’m so picky. I’m still in that process.
NBC Sports: Last season you had one program from both worlds, the modern and the classic. Is that something you want to try again?
Tennell: Not necessarily. I know I want programs in two different genres to show a wider range. I definitely wanna have programs that are very different from each other, I’m just not sure what yet.
NBC Sports: It seems like tour is the place to experiment with new programs. Can you tell me about your program to “Stay” and “Diamonds” by Rihanna?
Tennell: I love my costume for it. It’s the black unitard, super cool. I think people really like it. It’s something different for me. I can’t say I would’ve thought that I would pick it, but Benoit and I were just listening to music one day and I was like, ‘Oh I could kinda get into this.’ And he’s like [in an accent] ‘OK, we make program.’ I was like ‘OK! Sounds good!’
NBC Sports: You clearly give him a lot of room for input.
Tennell: Yeah, he’s amazing. He’s got such a vision for everything and he challenges me a lot, which is really great. I’m really glad that he does that. He’s pushed me out of my comfort zone but that’s really helped me grow as an athlete.