(Reuters) – Bradie Tennell almost certainly qualified for next month’s Winter Olympics when she won the U.S. figure skating championships title on Friday as Mirai Nagasu achieved redemption four years after her Olympic dream was shattered.
Tennell performed a near flawless routine in the free skate in San Jose, California to increase her margin after starting in front following Wednesday’s short program.
She scored 145.72 points to finish on 219.51. Nagasu was second on 213.84. The 18-year-old Karen Chen finished a distant third on 198.59 to likely claim the third spot on the American team for the Pyeongchang Games.
“I think the sky’s the limit for me,” said 19-year-old Tennell. “I’d been doing clean programs all season so I had a really good base.”
Ashley Wagner, whose selection for the 2014 team was controversial, again finished fourth but is unlikely to be selected again this year after a poor season.
Wagner had been given the third spot in the U.S. team in 2014, despite finishing fourth at the nationals, which had almost forced Nagasu to quit the sport.
The 24-year-old Nagasu, however, ignited the crowd on Friday with her athletic performance and burst into tears of relief on completing a routine that started with a triple Axel before she received an ovation that lasted more than a minute and embraced coach Tom Zakrajsek as she left the ice.
“Being left off the team (in 2014) has pushed me to become a stronger skater,” she had said beforehand. “It was a very hard thing to accept.”
The championships continue on Saturday as 18-year-old Nathan Chen takes a big lead into the men’s free skate, while the husband-and-wife team of Chris and Alexa Knierim lead heading into the pairs free skate.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)