SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Rising star Bradie Tennell's near-perfect free skate Friday night earned her a national title and almost certainly a spot on the U.S. team for next month's Olympics.
Tennell was spotless in the short program two days ago, then as the final skater in the long program she didn't miss a trick under tremendous pressure. Her top competitors, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen, already had put down superb routines.
"I just had to keep calm and focus on what I knew I could do," Tennell said. "There's the initial butterflies, but I kind of start to lose myself and keep going.
"It's indescribable to me."
Nagasu, U.S. champ 10 years ago, capped a sensationally sweet comeback with a flowing performance to finish second, virtually assuring a spot in next month's Olympics — a berth she was denied four years ago by the selection committee. That position for Sochi was given to Ashley Wagner, who had finished fourth, one spot behind Nagasu, but had a better overall record.
Chen, the defending champion who felt ill before the competition Friday, was third and Wagner was fourth.
The three women headed to the Pyeongchang Games will be announced Saturday.
After overpowering the entry and two-footing the triple axel that no other American woman tries, Nagasu hit six triple jumps, including a loop in the final seconds of a stirring program. She was so moved by her performance that she broke out in tears and covered her face, trying to gain control of the emotions that often had betrayed her in critical moments.
She was still crying in, appropriately, the kiss and cry area when the marks showed Nagasu she had shattered her personal best by nearly 20 points with a 213.84.
Chen's big season last year had not translated into achievement this campaign. She put those struggles to an icy death with a superb showing that had one flaw toward the end. She, too, was overcome by tears for a 198.59 score.
Tennell made it a trio of tears with her career best of 219.51. A long shot heading into the season, Tennell announced herself as an Olympic team threat with a third place at Skate America. Hardly ice shattering, but she ratcheted up everything for nationals.
Wagner had the crowd going for most of her energetic routine, but a flawed lutz as her final jump was costly. She responded to the fans with a deep bow when she finished, yet was shaking her head "no" when her marks were posted.
"I'm furious, I am absolutely furious," Wagner said. "I know when I go and I lay it down and I absolutely left one jump on the table, but for me to put out two programs that I did at this competition as solid as I skated and to get those scores, I am furious and I think deservedly so."
Earlier, favorites Maia and Alex Shibutani outdistanced their top competition in the short dance. The free dance is Sunday.
The ice should sizzle when dancing to a Latin beat. The Shibutanis made sure it did.
Not that Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, or Madison Chock and Evan Bates weren't smokin'. Far from it as all three couples staked early claims to the trio of berths available for Americans at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
With hefty competition from French and Canadian duos, only one podium spot is likely to come the Americans' way. All of the U.S. contenders belong in consideration after their latest performances.
Latin music, including a rhumba, is required this year for the short dance. The brother-sister combination — "Shib Sibs" — showed speed and strength and even a tad of wickedness in the routine. The two-time defending champions and three-time world medalists punctuated their program with eight side-by-side twizzle turns as their music counted uno through ocho.