Olympic figure skater Bradie Tennell prepares to defend U.S. title

Cary resident optimistic about changes to short, free-skate programs

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BUFFALO GROVE – A half dozen girls skated in every direction across the ice during a recent training session at Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion. To the unaccustomed eye, figure skating training looks like chaos.

But these girls know what they’re doing.

In the center of the ice, Bradie Tennell worked on the same sequence over and over again.

The 20-year-old, who grew up in Carpentersville and lives with her family in Cary, is coming off the most successful year of her figure skating career, during which she won the ladies’ singles title at the U.S. Championships, became an Olympian and brought home an Olympic bronze medal in the team competition.

She competed through the spring and toured the country in “Stars on Ice,” and through it all, she took off only a few days last summer. Most mornings, she arrives at Twin Rinks between 6 and 6:30 a.m., training for about six or seven hours.

“There are days where I’m tired and I just want to go home,” Tennell said. “But if you can do it on those days, I tell myself I can do it any day. Without the bad days, there’d be no good days. I think the bad days are just as important as the good ones. That helps keep me moving forward. And, of course, my passion for the sport.”

At a recent training session, Tennell was preparing for this week’s U.S. Championships in Detroit, where she will try to defend her 2018 national title. The short program is Thursday night, and the free skate is Friday.

Tennell wanted to up the difficulty of her programs this season. Whereas last year she won the national title with a “Cinderella”-inspired free skate, this year she’s going for something with a different vibe.

“They’re really cool,” Tennell said. “They’re very different from anything else, but that’s kind of what I was going for. They’re more edgy. My short program is more sci-fi, edgy, mysterious. My free program is ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ so it’s very tragic, and I really love the music.”

Her coach of 11 years, Denise Myers, called her “a much more mature Bradie” in her programs.

“Her programs, artistically, are much more difficult,” Myers said. “She loves that challenge, and I think she’s rising to the challenge.”

Tennell became Myers’ first Olympic qualifier last year after more than three decades coaching the sport. Myers said that when she goes out of town, she never has to worry about Tennell being on her own at practice.

“She’s very coachable because she’s disciplined within herself,” Myers said. “A lot of it comes from her upbringing and her work ethic. She has a great support system with her mom and her brothers.”

Last year, the figure skating community raised enough money to send her mother, Jean, and her two brothers, Austin, 19, and Shane, 17, to the Olympics.

“It was cool,” Bradie Tennell said. “I know they were having a lot of fun at school with it.”

In Detroit this week, Tennell seeks to become the first repeat ladies champion since Ashley Wagner won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

“It’s important to me to always keep striving to be better than I was before,” Tennell said. “This year, that was one of my main goals. I just want to go out there and, of course, everybody wants to skate their best.”

Of the three ladies singles Olympic qualifiers last year, Tennell is the only one competing at nationals this week. Karen Chen, who won the U.S. title in 2017, is out with a foot injury. Mirai Nagasu, last year’s national runner-up, is taking a break from the sport. Gracie Gold, another favorite and a two-time national champion, withdrew last week, as well.

The door appears to be open for the defending national champion.

“We like to focus on what you can control,” Myers said. “Of course, she has goals. Of course, they’re reachable goals.”