(Reuters) – Bradie Tennell performed a brilliant routine to take a narrow short program lead over sentimental favorite Mirai Nagasu in the ladies competition at the U.S. figure skating championships on Wednesday.
Under the microscope of the Olympic selectors in the last event before the team for Pyeongchang is picked, in-form teenager Tennell executed flawlessly in San Jose, California.
Tennell arrived at the championships as one to watch after finishing third at Skate America last month and she did not disappoint, notching the highest ever U.S. championships short program score of 73.79 points, ahead of Nagasu’s 73.09.
“I didn’t even know that,” the 19-year-old said in a post-routine interview. “My expectations were just to skate a clean program. I just ignored the whole Olympics aspect of it and skated how I know how.”
Nagasu, meanwhile, failed to stick her signature jump in a nervous start to what she hopes will be Olympic redemption but still recovered to challenge Tennell.
The 24-year-old wept openly after being overlooked for the 2014 American team for Sochi, despite finishing third at the U.S. championships that year.
Four years after that crushing disappointment, Nagasu entered this year’s championships with the distinction of being only the second American after Tonya Harding to land a triple Axel in international competition.
After a nervous warm-up, Nagasu started her routine with the triple Axel but stumbled upon landing, although she stayed on her feet. She regrouped, however, and was rewarded with the highest technical score of the night.
“I think I did a great job. To go down in history is all I’ve ever wanted,” said Nagasu, who makes no secret of her desire to atone for 2014.
“I wish I had the mental ability of (multiple gold medal-winning swimmer) Michael Phelps but I think my journey has been about getting up… I’m so proud to still be here today.”
Tennell and Nagasu are well clear of third-placed Karen Wang on 69.48, with triple national champion Ashley Wagner languishing down in fifth place on 65.94.
“I’ve head a really mental season, I’m not going to lie about that,” said Wagner, referring to her recent mediocre form.
“This was solid. You can lose an event in the short program and my main focus was to get through this, not get too far behind and get myself a close enough distance to make a real killing in the long.”
The ladies’ event concludes on Friday with the long program.
The first three finishers are not guaranteed of selection, as Nagasu discovered in 2014, but know a strong finish will be hard to ignore.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina)