Skate America is where it all began for Bradie Tennell.
For Tennell, the 2017-18 figure skating season was the stuff of childhood fantasies. She entered last fall as a relative unknown, even inside her own country. She departed the winter as a ladies national champion, an Olympic medalist, and one of the biggest names in American skating.
Tennell’s whirlwind 2017-18 was kicked off by a breakthrough performance at Skate America. So it’s no surprise that she’s eagerly anticipating her return to the event.
Tennell is one of the headliners at the 2018 version of Skate America, which takes place Friday through Sunday at Everett’s Angel of the Winds Arena, and she’s looking to replicate the performance from last year that catapulted her to prominence.
“Absolute madness,” is how Tennell, a 20-year-old from Carpentersville, Illinois, described her 2017-18 season. “It was amazing, and going out at Skate America and having the skates I did played a big part.”
Heading into last year’s Skate America in Lake Placid, New York, Tennell was little more than an afterthought in the international figure skating community. She had won the U.S. Junior Championship in 2015, but she suffered a fractured vertebra in her back a month after winning the title and had to spend the summer in a back brace. A year later she suffered the same injury to a different vertebra in her back. While the injuries didn’t prevent her from competing, they did prevent her from being able to train properly, and as a result her 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons were largely lost.
But Tennell was back to full health to start the 2017-18 season. She received an invite to compete at Skate America, her first ever International Skating Union Grand Prix of Figure Skating Event. Skating against a star-studded international field that included three-time U.S. national champion Ashley Wagner, as well as former World Championships medalists Sakoto Miyahara of Japan, Gabrielle Daleman of Canada and Alena Leonova of Russia, Tennell performed two flawless routines to claim the bronze medal.
Tennell suddenly found herself in the conversation for medaling at the national championships and earning a spot on the Olympic team.
“When I think of Bradie, I think of patience and perseverance,” Tennell’s coach of 11 years Denise Myers said. “I call it a marathon, it’s not a sprint. A lot of people are looking for instant gratification, but she’s just persevered and been patient with herself.”
That patience and perseverance paid off in a big way come January. Tennell skated two more flawless routines at the U.S. Championships in San Jose, California, and she emerged as the national champion. Her performance earned her a trip to Pyeongchang, South Korea, as a member of the U.S. Olympic team.
“Last year’s nationals was amazing,” Tennell said. “I went into it knowing I had done my job, I had prepared and worked as hard as I possibly could. I knew it was a potential Olympic qualifier, but I wanted to put that out of my head and go and enjoy the experience.
“Nationals in an Olympic year is something to behold,” Tennell continued. “That arena, I’d never felt anything like it. When I stepped onto the ice for my long program, there were thousands in the stands, but I could hear a pin drop. All of a sudden it got so loud that I couldn’t hear them call my name to go on the ice — it was instantaneous, I stepped on the ice and it was an uproar. I remember taking a deep breath when the music started and thinking to myself, ‘It’s just you, the ice and the music.’ Then I skated a clean program.”
At the Olympics Tennell helped the U.S. win the bronze medal in the team competition. She finished ninth in the ladies competition.
“I was obviously a little disappointed in myself for making those two mistakes (in the ladies competition at the Olympics),” Tennell said. “But I’m very proud of myself for skating clean in the team event. We medaled, and I think there was a lot of pressure because not only do you want to do well for yourself, you have eight or nine other athletes who are relying on you to do your best.”
Having now put herself on the map of U.S. figure skating, Tennell is looking to elevate her performances to an even higher level this season. Tennell was already known for her jumping proficiency, and this year she’s added an even more difficult triple Lutz, triple loop combination to her repertoire.
Where Tennell is hoping to make the greatest strides, however, is with her artistry. Tennell won the national championship largely because her jumping and technical abilities. Now she’s determined to improve the aesthetics of her routines.
“That’s my big goal for this year, to surprise people with the improvement that I’ve made with my artistry,” Tennell said. “I’m really trying to step it up with that, to captivate the audience and tell a story with my programs.”
So far, so good for Tennell. She debuted her new programs at the Autumn Classic International on Sept. 20-22 in Oakville, Ontario, where she won the gold medal, edging out Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia in the process. At the Japan Open last weekend Tennell, skating just her Romeo and Juliet-inspired free program, finished fourth against an elite field that included Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova of Russia.
Next up for Tennell is a trip to Everett for Skate America, and if all goes to plan the event will serve as a catalyst for another special season.