Tennell's composure impresses Lipinski
GANGNUENG, South Korea -- NBC figure skating analyst and former Olympian Tara Lipinski knows how much pressure Olympic figure skaters feel, and it's the ability to handle it that impresses her the most about first-time Olympian Bradie Tennell.
"Those nerves are so overwhelming," Lipinski said. "For her to be so poised and put out such a clean skate, there's something very special about her mental focus."
The Carpentersville native's Olympic debut was a season-best, 68.94-point performance in the team event ladies single short program, putting Team USA, at that point, in first place.
Although Lipinski said figure skating on Olympic ice is a terrifying experience, Tennell has appeared undaunted by the pressure.
Tennell will try to cement her status as an international star when she begins her individual programs Wednesday.
The world saw firsthand what pressure can do to a first-time Olympic figure skater.
Vaunted two-time U.S. national champion Nathan Chen turned in two disastrous performances during his program in the team event -- his Olympic debut -- and in the men's short program. He put up a tremendous score in the free skate to finished fifth overall.
"If you go back in time, the skaters that had that something special about them that could kind of put blinders on are the ones that succeed," Lipinski said.
"Those are the ones that win Olympics."
Here's how the 20-year-old Tennell explained her approach in an interview with Us Weekly: "I may look very calm on the ice, but the truth is I get nervous. We all do. I work really hard at blocking everything out and staying focused. It is as much a part of skating as the jumps and skill."
Lipinski compared Tennell's Olympic debut to her own, when Lipinski won a gold medal at her first and only Winter Games in 1998, and described her rise then as "meteoric."
In comparison, Tennell's status as a skater is less experienced going into her Olympics as opposed to other first-time American women figure skaters.
When Lipinski competed at the Nagano Olympics, she already had earned a world championship and two Grand Prix championships.
Sarah Hughes and Michelle Kwan also competed at multiple U.S. and world championships before competing in their first Olympics in 2002 and 1998, respectively.
Tennell has only competed in one Grand Prix event, Skate America 2017, and in one U.S. national championship, which she won. As Lipinski put it, Tennell "came out of nowhere."
"I've never seen anything like it," Lipinski said.
To reach the next level, Lipinski said Tennell needs to work on her artistry on the ice, which both Denise Myers, Tennell's coach, and Tennell herself acknowledged as needing improvement.
However, Tennell already has solved the most difficult challenge.
"The hardest part is nailing those nerves and believing in yourself," Lipinski said. "If she spends a long time figuring out how to develop herself as an artist, she can be a true threat."
• Christopher Kwiecinski is a student at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism covering the Olympics in Pyeongchang. Follow him on Twitter at @OchoK_.