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Bradie Tennell makes dazzling debut for US in team event

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) Bradie Tennell fell in love with the music to her short program long before the Winter Olympics, when the young American figure skater didn’t even know she would qualify.

It’s from the film ”Taegukgi,” a blockbuster in South Korea but hardly known back home.

”One of my close friends used the music previously but was injured before she could compete with it,” Tennell explained, ”so she told me that if I wanted to use it this year, being the Olympics in Korea, I could. And knowing I loved the music, I said, `Why not?”’

Good choice.

After earning her spot in Pyeongchang with a surprising win at nationals, Tennell put together a dazzling program in front of an appreciative South Korean crowd during the women’s portion of the team competition Sunday. She glided across the ice with grace, soared through the air with confidence and even pumped her fists in the kiss-and-cry area in a rare departure from her usual bashful self.

She wound up with a personal-best 68.94 points, fifth out of the women and a hundredth of a point out of fourth. That was good for six points in the team standings and left the U.S. a point ahead of Italy for the bronze medal heading into Monday, the final day of competition.

”I thought it went very well. I’m super happy with the performance I put out there,” said the 20-year-old Tennell, a longshot at best to land on the podium in the individual event. ”This is what I’ve been training a long time for and I’m really happy.”

Indeed, her moment in the Olympic spotlight was years in the making.

Tennell burst onto the scene by winning a junior national title in 2015, and normally that would portend good things. But when pain began pulsating through her back a couple of months later, she went to the doctor and found she had a stress fracture that forced her into a brace for three months.

She was finally getting up to speed a year later when the injury resurfaced.

”It really took a toll on my consistency and my skating,” Tennell said.

She leaned on her family for support and insists she never once thought about giving up on her Olympic dream. But spending most of the past year skating in junior Grand Prix events – and not doing particularly well – while the rest of her rivals were on bigger stages was hardly a harbinger for Tennell’s performances last month in San Jose, California.

While most of the women’s field stumbled, Tennell pieced together two sharp programs to capture the national title with room to spare and lock up her spot on the U.S. team for the Winter Games.

That gave the South Korean fans a chance to see her ”Taegukgi”-inspired program.

The film is set in the 1950s and follows two brothers, Jin-tae and Jin-seok, who are drafted to fight in the Korean War. It is an emotional and at times heartbreaking depiction of love and combat, and how the bonds of family can transcend most everything else.

”It’s a beautiful story and it means something to me, and I hope that comes out in my skating,” Tennell said. ”This music is very dear to a lot of people here and I hope I did it justice.”

Judging by the ovation she received, there should be no doubt.

”It felt like I was doing another program in a practice session – `You’ve done this program a million times, it’s just a million and one,”’ she said. ”I got butterflies right before my music started but when the music starts, I go on autopilot and just lose myself in it.”

Tennell, who warms up almost exclusively to `80s rock tunes, struggled to land her triple lutz-triple toe combination in the lead-up to her program. But like everything else on Sunday, she nailed her first element when it mattered, setting the tone for the rest of the show.

When the music stopped and she looked to the rafters, Tennell flashed a big grin.

”It hit me when I finished, and I looked up and I could see the rings on one of the banners and I thought, `Wow, I just did that on Olympic ice,”’ she said. ”That’s pretty cool.”

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