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US Figure Skating Championships 2021: Friday TV Schedule, Top Contenders

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 15, 2021

Bradie Tennell performs during the women's short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

Bradie Tennell took an early lead Thursday on the opening day of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, scoring a competition record 79.40 in the women's short program as she attempts to regain her national title.

She will have the opportunity to put an exclamation point on things in the women's free program.

Alysa Liu, in second-place, can still earn her third consecutive championship with a strong showing.

It is one of two programs held Friday.

   

Friday Schedule

Rhythm Dance (4-6 p.m., NBC Sports; Skate order)

Women's Free (8-11 p.m., NBC; Skate order currently unavailable)

   

Tennell Seeks Second Championship

If history repeats itself, the winner of Thursday's short program will see her quest to win a second national title end in heartbreak.

After winning the gold in the 2018 championships, Tennell jumped out to an early lead in 2019 and '20 by winning the short program. She would falter in the free program, though, and watch as Liu claimed the title.

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Tennell hopes the third time is the charm, but she is not obsessing over it.

"Winning another has been a driving force for me," she told Philip Hersh of NBC Sports. "It can be very overwhelming if you constantly dwell on it. I choose to keep it tucked away in the back of my mind. It's always there, but not like on a billboard, kind of in a drawer."

Even more impressive than Tennell's historic scores in the short program is the fact that she accomplished it with head coach Tom Zakrajsek back in Colorado after testing positive for COVID-19.

"It has been a bit strange, especially because of all the recent changes I've made," Tennell told Hersh. "Not having my head coach at a competition is a completely new experience for me."

She returns to the ice Friday seeking to rewrite her recent history. To do so, she will have to overcome familiar competition in position to eclipse her once more.

   

Can Liu Make It Three in a Row?

Despite finishing second to Tennell, 2019 and '20 national champion Liu scored higher in Thursday's short program than she had the previous two years. It is somewhat surprising given the literal growing pains and hip injury she suffered last October, as detailed by Hersh.

She said after her 76.36: "I've found a new appreciation for skating skills and spins, because before I would just focus on jumps. When I had my injury and couldn't jump I was a little sad, but then I started to enjoy the skating part of skating."

That the 15-year-old scored the way she did, with the hurdles she has overcome in the last year, makes her showing in the short program a bit surprising. More so would be a third championship, which she is more than capable of securing Friday.