GANGNEUNG, South Korea /February 20, 2018 (AP)(STL.News) — Bradie Tennell fell during her opening jump combination at the Pyeongchang Olympics, a mistake so rare that the reigning U.S. champion couldn’t remember the last time it happened.
Mirai Nagasu fell trying to land her signature triple axel, which she pulled off in the team event but is so hard that nobody else in the competition attempts it.
Karen Chen bobbled her opening triple lutz, which was supposed to feed into a triple toe, forcing her to adjust the rest of her routine to squeeze in another combination jump.
All three Americans showed tremendous resilience in holding their programs together.
Tennell, the first skater on the ice for the short program Wednesday, wound up with the lead for more than two hours with her score of 64.01 points. Nagasu had 66.93 and Chen totaled 65.90, leaving all three out of medal contention but proud of the way they fought back.
“I think it’s just that each of us have been through so many experiences and ups and downs. We each struggle with our individual obstacles,” Chen said. “I’m sure they’re all really different but the same in many ways, and I think that’s given us character, to never give up and keep going.”
Alina Zagitova led heading into Friday’s free skate with a record 82.92 points, followed by Russian teammate Evgenia Medvedeva with 81.61. Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond was third with 78.87.
Nagasu wound up ninth, with her teammates right behind.
To be sure, it’s easy to give up when you train your entire life for 2 minutes, 45 seconds on the Olympic ice, only for things to go awry before you finish the opening element.
Tennell did not participate in the team event, when the U.S. won the bronze medal , so her short program was her Olympic debut. She landed everything during her early morning practice — in fact, she had landed just about everything since arriving in South Korea — and that had given her tremendous confidence heading into her short program at Gangneung Ice Arena.
But after landing her opening triple lutz, Tennell was unable to hold onto her triple toe loop, falling on the second half of a combination that had become so familiar.
“It was definitely unexpected. I don’t remember the last time I made a mistake in my short program, especially on the jumps,” Tennell said. “But things happen. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. You just have to get up a keep going. I’m definitely a fighter. I do not give up.”
She certainly did not, landing a triple loop and double axel later in her program.
Tennell had to go hours before the rest of the contenders because starting groups are determined by world rankings. She spent most of the past couple of years injured, and did not participate in some of the biggest competitions. The result was a 4 a.m. wakeup for her Olympic short program.
“I’m not very fond of being in the first warmup, but it is what it is,” Tennell said. “We all have our own challenges. You just have to skate the best you can.”
Nagasu’s challenge was to land the forward-starting, 3 1/2-revolution jump that causes plenty of men trouble. She nailed the triple axel during her early practice, though she also stepped out trying it two other times, and again during her warmup in front of her coach, Tom Zakrajsek.
When the music to “Nocturne” started, Nagasu took a deep breath and began building up speed. She then unleashed a spin with so much energy she actually over-rotated, sending her to the ice.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I just let my nerves push me a little too far.”
Like her teammate, Nagasu picked herself up and pressed on. She nailed a triple flip-triple toe combination along with a triple loop, and her strong spins and step sequence finished out the program.
“I think about last year when I wasn’t going for triple axel and how much easier the program was, but you still have to rack up the points somehow. You have to play the game,” she said. “This isn’t what I wanted, but at the same time, you can’t always have what you want.”
Chen’s bobble on her opening combination forced her to ditch the second jump, then add it on the fly later in the program. She kept her composure and slotted it in to achieve the most points possible, but the mistake still knocked her out of the podium race.
“I’ve been nailing that every day in practice and I expected myself to, and to not be able to do that was a huge disappointed,” she said. “For sure, I was a little flustered after that. But I sold my program the best I could, got the most points I could and I’m proud of that.”
Just like the rest of her teammates.