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Bulgogi bites: 'Resilient' Tennell ready for anything

Chock, Bates feel deep connection with message of Opening Ceremony
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Whether she skates just the short program or the short and free in the Olympic team event, Bradie Tennell is prepared for whatever is thrown her way. -Getty Images

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - No one may be better equipped to handle the figure skating dawn patrol than Bradie Tennell.

The unprecedented 10 a.m. starts of all figure skating competition at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games mean skaters have warmup sessions as early as 6 a.m., with wakeup calls coming about two hours earlier.

That's when the alarm goes off for Tennell every weekday at her home in suburban Chicago.

"I'm up at 4:15 or 4:30, depending how many times I hit the snooze," she said with a grin Saturday afternoon, after her final full practice before she will skate the short program in the team event Sunday.

Tennell's Sunday warmup will begin at 7 a.m. and last until 7:25. Since the short dance precedes the ladies short, she will not compete until 12:06 p.m.

The schedule, created to bring skating into TV primetime in the United States, became a hot topic after three top men -- Patrick Chan of Canada, Nathan Chen of the U.S. and Mikhail Kolyada of Russia -- came apart in a short program that began at 10 a.m. Friday.

Japan's Shoma Uno, who won the short easily, expected the early start to bother him more than it did.

"Usually, it would be hard," he said. "Today, for some reason, I felt good. I was a little sleepy during the warmup session (which began at 7:05 a.m.), but my body was moving in the competition."

Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, shrugged at a question about her thoughts on the schedule.

"I don't think anything of it," she said.

Her coach, Denise Myers, said that is Tennell's default reaction to situations that are out of her control.

"She is very resilient," Myers said. "If it was going to be 10 at night, she would be fine with it. Any time of the day, she has been able to respond."

So having Mother Nature turn her travel plans to South Korea inside out was no big deal.

A bad weather forecast for Chicago resulted in U.S. Figure Skating changing the flight Tennell and Myers were on from Monday to Sunday, which meant some hurried packing. Then the Sunday flight was delayed more than three hours, and the skater and coach got to San Francisco too late to make their planned connection to Seoul.

The quickly made Plan B involved ice time Monday at 8 a.m. at a rink in Fremont, California, where they arrived close to midnight Sunday. Tennell woke at 6 a.m., went to the rink, practiced for 90 minutes and rushed back to San Francisco International Airport for the overseas leg.

Few athletes heading to their first Olympics would have handled all that with the equanimity Tennell did. But dealing with unexpected circumstances, such as being sick or having delays in a competition schedule, is something Myers has Tennell simulate at home.

"I think anything that upsets the apple cart is good," Myers said. "You learn how to be more resilient and bounce back."

Whether Tennell does more than just the short program for Team USA in the team event remains to be seen. The lineups for the free programs for men's, ladies and dance do not have to be submitted until Sunday afternoon at 3:30 local time.

And what if Tennell were asked to do both?

"I'm ready for whatever they throw at me," she said.

- Philip Hersh

Chock, Bates in harmony with 'Imagine'

On Saturday, Madison Chock and Evan Bates skated their free dance to "Imagine" at Gangneung Ice Arena for the first time, a day after four Korean singers delivered a stirring rendition of John Lennon's classic on one of the world's biggest stages: the PyeongChang "Peace in Motion" opening ceremony.

"Imagine" was the centerpiece of an event that saw the reunification of North and South Korea, still technically at war, as those countries' athletes marched in together during the Parade of Nations.

"You will inspire us all to live together in peace and harmony despite all our differences," Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said before the song's unmistakable opening notes rang out.

Chock and Bates didn't know "Imagine" would be featured in the Opening Ceremony. But the same motives that drove organizers to showcase Lennon's wistful plea for world harmony motivated the skaters to create the free dance with Christopher Dean last spring.

"We knew when we started listening to "Imagine," it would be the right program for us," Chock, 25, said. "We just connected with the music so much. It just resonated in our hearts, and I think this is the perfect place to share it with the world."

"It's beautiful, it's representative of what the Olympics are about, it's representative of what we're about," Bates, 28, said. "We worked a lifetime to get to this point, and you want to believe in the program you are going to skate in that (Olympic) moment. We believe in our program."

Some athletes skip the Opening Ceremony; standing outside for hours in frigid temperatures can be hard on the body. But Bates, elected team captain earlier this month by his fellow skaters, thinks those people are missing out.

"The Olympic Games are such a unique event, and the energy is such a different type of energy," he said. "I find that when athletes open themselves up to accepting that energy, letting it take hold of them, it can really elevate their skating, elevate their game. This is my third Olympics, and I've seen people who try to almost shut themselves off from all the excitement. For the two of us, it just works. We were there, we were happy, we were really thrilled to be in that moment."

"We had such an amazing time, walking with our teammates and making new friends -- it was just really magical," Chock said.

The on- and off-ice couple, who teamed up in July 2011, have impressed judges with "Imagine" all season long. It bested the free dances of the two other top U.S. couples -- Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani -- at both the Grand Prix Final and the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. But their Latin short dance, set to a Marc Anthony medley, has fallen a bit short with judges, and they came away from the U.S. championships with a bronze medal.

Working with coach Igor Shpilband in Novi, Michigan, the skaters made some key changes heading into PyeongChang.

"We just really turned things around that weren't presented in the right way," Bates said. "It can be as simple as presenting to the panel of judges, where before we felt we had our backs to them. I felt we were dancing to each other and going crazy to the music, and it was very much closed off to the audience. … We just made some simple changes that are really going to help our performance."

When he and Chock competed in Sochi in 2014, they were partners and friends. Over the past year or so, their relationship grown into something far more, and that's made their entire Olympic experience a lot richer.

"This is such a big moment in our lives, and to be able to experience it with the person you love makes it even more special and even more memorable," Bates said.

Like many couples, Chock and Bates have started to finish each other's sentences.

"We were taking photos and things like that, and we thought…" Chock said.

"We're going to have these photos forever," Bates cut in.

"We're going to have these photos forever," Chock repeated, then added, "And put them in a book. Everything is so much more special."

- Lynn Rutherford