The 2018 Winter Olympics' team skating program kicked into high gear on Sunday, Feb. 11, at PyeongChang's Gangneung Ice Arena. But, of all the athletes who delivered show-stopping performances during Sunday's events, Bradie Tennell's 2018 Olympic ice skating routine was certainly one for the books. The two-day team skating event (which picked back up Monday morning, Feb. 12) kicked off Sunday with three competition categories: the ice dance, the ladies' short program, and the pairs long program.
Representing Team USA, Tennell commanded the ice during the ladies' short program, making her Olympic debut in the meanwhile. Amid the event's markedly competitive roster of skaters, the 20-year-old Illinois native turned heads with her razor-sharp routine, which she performed to the backtrack of a patriotic song by a Korean composer. Tennell's crisp, methodical technique wow-ed judges and onlookers alike, many of whom seemed doubly impressed with the skater's noticeable ability to keep her cool, even in the face of unyielding, pressurized circumstances. NBC's Olympic-centric Twitter account shared a video clip from Tennell's routine Sunday, accompanied by a duly proud caption. Echoing fans' enthusiasm, the account wrote, "The national champion is out here dazzling. Take a bow, @bradietennell."
Tennell's Olympics routine, for the record, was definitely not for the faint of heart. Wrought with jumps, leaps, and turns of every variety, the routine was just about as polished as it was thrilling. Her reliability in landing the complicated series of ice acrobatics (her masterfully executed triple toe loop jump and triple lutz really stole the show) even prompted 1998 Olympic figure skating champion Tara Lipinski to dub Tennell a "machine" for her impressive consistency. But, despite the substantial bout of attention — and praise — paid to Tennell's first-time Olympic performance, the contender for Team USA placed fifth in Sunday's event overall, among 10 competitors who'd also brought their respective A-games. (This is the Olympics, after all.)
In the end, Tennell's component score (which relies on an arguably more subjective set of judgement calls, evaluating choreography, transitions, and general skating aptitude) fell just a few hundredths of a point short of the event's fourth place spot. But, the event's first five titleholders will have the opportunity to skate once more during the program's latter portion, which continues on into Monday. At this point, the U.S. team seems to have a solid shot at a bronze medal, trailing Canada and the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) on the scoreboards.
Still, Tennell broke her own personal record Sunday with a season-best score of 68.94. That's certainly no small feat for the Olympic newcomer, who has skyrocketed toward international recognition in recent weeks, since Tennell won gold at the U.S. national figure skating championships last month and secured her spot on Team USA's Olympic roster. But, prior to her explosive success this past year, Tennell had been out of the skating game for quite some time — the result of an extended series of injuries that prevented her from consistently pursuing the sport.
Ahead of her blow-out Olympic debut, some thought Tennell's former lack of international recognition might dampen her competitive edge during the course of the winter games. But, after Tennell's performance Sunday, the international acclaim reaped by the Olympic games' more seasoned skaters (think: Canada's Katelyn Osmond and OAR's Evgenia Medvedeva, two of Tennell's competitors) doesn't seem too far off. And, if the young athlete's admirably chill disposition following the ladies' short program is any indication, it seems — Olympic medals or not — Tennell is happily enjoying the ride. In a quick televised interview immediately following Sunday night's routine, Tennell's pride was palpable. Speaking about what exactly was going through her head as she landed the final spin of her complex routine, Tennell told Time, "I looked up and could see the Olympic rings on one of the banners, and I thought, 'Wow. I just did that on Olympic ice.' That's pretty cool."
The 2018 Winter Olympics figure skating competition continues on Feb. 13. Here's to hoping the rest of Tennell's inaugural Olympic tour follows in the footsteps of her dynamite debut.