By Elaine Lies
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Unfazed by the meteoric rise that brought her from near obscurity and a broken back to the ultimate stage of the Pyeongchang Olympics, American figure skater Bradie Tennell believes her only real rival is herself.
Tennell, who turned 20 on Jan. 31, skated under the radar for much of her junior career, before she broke one of her lumbar vertebra just as she was starting to get attention and was forced to wear a brace for months in 2015.
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The injury then deteriorated and by 2016, some thought her career might be over.
But months of rehabilitation led to a bronze at Skate America in 2017, followed by victory at the U.S. Nationals last month that earned her selection for Pyeongchang, where she said she fears no competitor.
"My biggest rival is myself - because every time I go out there, I want to be better than I was before, so that's what I really strive for," she told reporters after a practice session at the ice arena on Saturday.
"I just want to go out there and put it all out there and leave nothing behind."
The daughter of a single mother who is a nurse, Tennell began skating at the age of two after she had begged her mother to find a rink in the phone book and take her over.
Olympic buzz began about her in 2015 when she won the U.S. junior title, before she suffered the back injury.
Overcoming the injury undoubtedly helped her develop a cold, mental toughness and laser focus on her own performances, rather than that of her rivals like Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova, both Olympic Athletes from Russia.
"I focus on myself because that's all I can control. There's no sense in worrying about something that's out of my control," she said.
"I have a job to do, and if I go out there and do my job, and whether I end up ahead of them or behind them, I know I've done my best and I'll be happy with that."
Other skaters have complained about the early time for the competitions, which are normally held in the evening, but this, too, Tennell takes in stride.
She is normally up at 4 a.m. as a matter of course.
"I feel more productive when I get up early. I feel like I get more done with my day," she said.
Her mother and both her younger brothers will be in the stands to cheer her on, although her mother is currently so busy touring South Korea the two have yet to catch up.
"It means everything to me," she said.
"My family has been here with me on this crazy journey from the beginning, so I feel that it's only right they be here to see this destination."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)