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Bradie Tennell takes surprise lead at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

By Emily Pacenti

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- In a competition many expected to be predictable, dark horse Bradie Tennell has taken an unexpected lead in the ladies short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where she set the highest short program score ever received at nationals in ladies figure skating.

With Olympic favorite and seasoned competitor Ashley Wagner sitting in fifth place after the short program while Tennell leads the field, many fans worry for the fates of Karen Chen and Mirai Nagasu.

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In the 2014 championships, a key Olympic qualifying event just as it is this year, Mirai Nagasu placed third above Wagner, who placed fourth. Hopeful for her second Olympic qualification, Wagner was sent to Sochi while Nagasu was sat on the sidelines. Nagasu, one of the few women in the world to compete with a triple axel, is fighting for her place on the Pyeongchang Olympic team. Many fear that even if she places higher, she may be booted once again to make room for Wagner.

Last year's national champion, Chen, is in third place. She's had an inconsistent season, switching between many old and new programs before settling on the same short that she competed with in last year's nationals. Should she place off the podium, or even maintain third place, it's possible that Pyeongchang will be out of her reach.

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Whether or Tennell will make the Olympic team even if she wins is not set in stone, but she has made herself a likely candidate for Pyeongchang in a competitive field. The one thing fans are sure of is that the free skate will be a nail biter. It airs 8 to 11 p.m. ET Friday on NBC from San Jose, Calif.

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