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Bulgogi bites: U.S. ladies looking to bounce back

Tennell has flawless run-through; Kostner wants to 'enjoy the moment'
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Bradie Tennell hopes that her clean run-through during Thursday's practice session is a sign of things to come for the free skate. -Getty Images

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - Bradie Tennell skated a perfect outing of her Cinderella free skate in Thursday morning's practice, weaving in and out of skaters in her warmup group and landing triple jumps a few feet away from teammates Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen.

Nothing fazed Tennell. It was like she was back home at the Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, and had the ice all to herself.

"I think that makes run-throughs on the ice by yourself easier, because if I know I can do it with other people getting in my way, I know I can do it alone," Tennell said after practice.

Yet the skater who had not missed a triple jump in all her major competitions this season -- landing 34 consecutive triples -- faltered on a triple lutz-triple toe loop during Wednesday's short program, falling on the second part of the combination. Her 64.01 points put her in 11th heading into Friday's free skate.

"It was just one of those fluke things where you go up for a jump and something is not quite right and you can't fix it in the air," Tennell said. "It all happens so fast."

Tennell's fall cost her at least four technical points and likely affected her program components score. Had she landed the combination, she might have topped the 70-point mark.

"You can't think about those kinds of things too hard or you will go down that spiral," Tennell said. "You can't change the past; you just have to keep looking forward."

Tennell's teammates did not fare much better in the short program. Nagasu fell on her opening triple axel, a jump she landed beautifully in the team event free skate; Chen put a hand down on her opening triple lutz and was unable to complete the intended triple-triple, although she tacked a double toe onto her triple loop later in the program. They sit ninth and 10th, respectively, heading into the free skate.

Chen did not look as sharp as Tennell in Thursday morning's practice. She had repeated trouble with her triple flip and also fell on a triple loop.

"This practice was the roughest of all the practices I have had (at the Olympics), to be perfectly honest," Chen said. "I felt like what happened yesterday affected me mentally a little bit. I'm disappointed, but I feel like that's the process. I'm ready to let this all go and focus on the long program."

Tammy Gambill, who coaches Chen in Riverside, California, thinks the skater's disappointing short program was a result of her trying too hard.

"Her combination, it's been so nice and clean here, and so I think she just wanted to prove to everybody she can do it solid, and she tried a little bit too hard," Gambill said.

It's been a tough season for Chen, whose fourth-place finish at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships helped earn the U.S. three ladies spots at these Olympics. She changed programs multiple times, finally settling on last season's self-choreographed efforts to On Golden Pond (short program) and "Tango Jalousie" (free skate).

She hopes to shake off her doldrums Friday and roar back in the free skate.

"I kind of feel like I've hit rock bottom," Chen said. "I have nothing to lose."

Nagasu went 1-for-2 on her trademark jump during Thursday's practice.

"There's just something about adrenaline and nerves, and sometimes I just over-jump [the triple axel]," she said. "I wish I could land it perfectly every time, but even the best skaters make mistakes."

Tom Zakrajsek, who coaches Nagasu in Colorado Springs, thinks missing the jump in Wednesday's short was a focus issue.

"She set it up really well, but there was hesitation from the back-outside edge to the initiation of the jump, and that is a big no-no with the axel," Zakrajsek said.

Nagasu went on to hit a solid triple flip-triple toe combination to earn a season's best 66.93 points.

"The takeaway is, she got up and finished the program and got it back together," Zakrajsek said. "She's not out of it by any means. We all saw that from Nathan Chen (who won the men's free skate to climb from 17th place after the short to fifth overall). But, certainly, it wasn't what we wanted."

- Lynn Rutherford

Kostner ready for one last Olympic skate

In the figure skating world, Italy's Carolina Kostner is a woman of a certain age.

So it's easy to understand why her coach, Michael Huth, thought it would be a good idea to let Kostner, who turned 31 two weeks ago, have a day off from practice after Wednesday's Olympic short program.

After all, what more would someone who has been skating at global championships for 14 seasons possibly still need to practice before she completes her fourth -- and undoubtedly last -- Olympics with Friday's free skate?

"Although I don't feel old, it's amazing to be here," Kostner said after finishing sixth in the short program.

She is nine years older than any of the five women ahead of her, eight years older than any of the other 29 skaters who competed in the short program, nearly 16 years older than the youngest athlete in the event, Olympic Athlete from Russia Alina Zagitova, who is in first place.

Kostner's Olympic career likely will not end with a second straight medal, even if she trails third-place Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada by just 5.72 points. The refined, exquisite qualities of Kostner's edges and movement and presentation no longer offset the jumping points she gives away to the younger skaters.

"It's not the time to compare yourself to the others," Kostner replied, when asked whether she feels like a woman among girls. "When we're out there, we have to express our personality and our character.

"I feel like a woman, and I know that I skate in a way that I was not able to at 16. I have 15 more years of training and sacrifices behind me."

But in the short program, she did only a triple-double combination, and she lost more ground by putting a hand down on the landing of a triple loop.

She would probably need a flawless free skate with at least two triple flips to have a chance at the podium, and she has struggled for such a performance in her five international competitions this season. Kostner came close at December's Grand Prix Final, but she regressed at last month's European championships.

And she would need help in the form of significant mistakes by at least one of the top three after the short: Zagitova, OAR's Evgenia Medvedeva and Osmond.

"Being here is a huge victory," Kostner said. "The rest is icing on the cake."

She got through the miserable performances of her first two Olympics, with finishes of ninth and 16th, to win a bronze at her third Winter Games four years ago. She got through going from third at one world championships to 12th in the next (2005 to 2006), from second in another to 12th the following year (2008 to 2009), and then to a world title in 2012.

She took a one-season break after the 2014 Olympics, then served a 21-month suspension after violating the World Anti-Doping Code for lying about an ex-boyfriend's whereabouts when testers showed up at their door. She came back to competitive skating in November 2016 and two months later won a 10th medal at the European championships, a total she increased this season to 11 (including five golds).

"I hope to be a motivation and inspiration for younger athletes to keep on skating if sometimes it is hard," she said.

So she will go out and perform to Debussy's "Prelude of the Afternoon of a Faun," bewitching music that Nijinsky made into his signature ballet. She has four more minutes on her sport's biggest stage.

"I want to show who I am, how lucky I am to be here, how lucky I feel to be skating such a long career," she said. "To skate at different stages of your life is very special.

"But it's not about a career; it's about this day. It's about enjoying this moment."

- Philip Hersh