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Figure Skaters Compete For Olympic Spots


Let's move now to the world of figure skating. The United States has just named its team of women skaters who will go to the Winter Games in South Korea next month and try to win an individual medal for the first time since 2006. NPR's Tom Goldman is in San Jose, Calif. - where I think it's so early, it's probably still December - covering the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Tom, thanks very much for being with us.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It's always a pleasure, especially today, Scott.

SIMON: Who's on the team?

GOLDMAN: Well, the women who finished one, two, three in the U.S. championships last night in San Jose. Bradie Tennell, 19 years old - she finished first in both the short and long programs in San Jose. And in last night's long program, if you saw it, she was nearly flawless. She landed all 11 jumps cleanly. She looked very polished.

Then there's Mirai Nagasu, 24, the old-timer of the group. She finished second last night. She's also going to the Olympics. She's a fan favorite, a powerful jumper and a beautiful, artistic skater, as well. She's one of only two American women ever to complete the difficult triple axel jump in international competition. And I know you know the other one, Scott - right?

SIMON: Yes. Although the last time she did it - Tonya Harding, we're talking about, you know...


SIMON: ...Whose biopic is out now. The last time she did it, she did the triple axel and then hit Nancy Kerrigan on the knee with a wrench or something, right? Isn't that what happened?

GOLDMAN: With another axel, exactly.

SIMON: Right.

GOLDMAN: So yeah. So there you go. And then - well, it wasn't Tonya. It was a friend of hers.

SIMON: It was a friend of hers. Yeah.

GOLDMAN: But anyway, 18-year-old Karen Chen is the third. She won last year's U.S. National. She was sick as a dog the day before last night's long program. She says she consulted her sports psychologist, her acupuncturist, other doctors. And she just toughed it out and skated a really nice program, good enough for a third place finish last night. And now she's on the Olympic team, too.

SIMON: You mentioned Mirai Nagasu. She was passed over four years ago. Do we see this as redemption?

GOLDMAN: I think it is a redemption. You know, it's this kind of quirky, if you will, selection process. We think that it should be the top three from the U.S. championships going - filling the three Olympic spots. But in fact, a selection committee decides on the skaters. And it looks at their body of work. It looks at how they've done over the past year in other major competitions.

And because of this process, the top three at the Nationals don't always make it. And as you mentioned, Mirai Nagasu in 2014 was passed over. She finished third at the U.S. Nationals but was passed over for Ashley Wagner, who finished fourth. The selection committee thought Wagner had the better resume.

Now, Nagasu - it is a bit of redemption. Her coach says even non-skating fans knew of Mirai as the poor skater who didn't make the Olympic team in 2014. But in last night's press conference after the competition, Nagasu, you know, admitted she was the one responsible for her failure in 2014. Here she is.


MIRAI NAGASU: I was a little bit careless over the season and didn't put out the body of work that I needed. And so I didn't want to feel that same way this year, and so I took on the full responsibility of becoming a stronger competitor and person.

GOLDMAN: And, Scott, it'll be really interesting to see how she does in South Korea. Right now she's the highest-ranked American woman in the world at No. 6. Even though she missed those 2014 Games, she has Olympic experience. She finished fourth at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and she'll be a contender in South Korea, especially if she can get that triple axel cranked up.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks so much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.


Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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