The 2020 U.S. Championships are in full swing in Greensboro, North Carolina, for the third time in 10 seasons. Skaters are vying for podium finishes and berths on the teams that will represent Team USA at the World, Four Continents and World Junior Championships. 

It was a case of déjà vu in the ladies short program as the top four from the 2019 campaign find themselves in the exact same positions again this season. Leading the way is 2018 champion Bradie Tennell, who had the performance of the evening, despite a few challenges leading into the competition.

“A while back I had fallen pretty badly and I hit my elbow on the wall. It’s been kind of swelling up and down for the past few months, and then for some reason this week it got really swollen and really painful and I didn’t know why,” Tennell explained. “Yesterday morning I woke up and I couldn’t bend my elbow at all, so I went to the medical room and the doctor gave me antibiotics. I had a hematoma that got infected, and let’s just say that I am very thankful that my mom is a nurse who has worked in the ER for 25 years.”

The 21-year-old Tennell capitalized on the quality of her technical elements and strong program components to earn a career-high score of 78.96. Her “Mechanisms” and “Kronos” program has encouraged the 2019 Grand Prix finalist to reveal some of the hidden layers that only those close to her, until now, have been able to see. “It’s kind of fun and sassy. That’s kind of me with my family and friends,” Tennell said with a smile. “I’m kind of sassy and sarcastic and a little more open with them, so it is kind of fun for me to put that into my skating — to explore it outside of myself. I have generally kept it more reserved on the ice, and I feel like it’s a new chapter and is bringing a different side to my skating.”

Last year’s champion, Alysa Liu is in second place with 75.40 points. The 14-year-old opened with a rough landing on a triple Axel attempt, but was able to shake it off immediately to complete the rest of her program with attack and flair. Skating to last year’s short program (“Don’t Rain on My Parade”), Liu performed with reckless abandon despite carrying the weight of expectations as the defending champion, earning 75.40 points for her performance.

“It didn’t feel too great as you can tell,” Liu said of the Axel attempt. “But my warm-up ones felt good, so I think that I just need to remember how they felt when I was on the warm-up and try to take that into my program. I don’t really feel pressure because I won last year. I don’t know what people say, and I don’t feel pressure because of that. I feel pressure because I want to do well, so it’s all coming from me.”

Skating late in the competition, Mariah Bell seemed to be making a charge for the lead in her Britney Spears program, landing most of her jumps with panache. However, a fall on the step sequence late in the program relegated her to third place with 73.22 points. “I love that program. I was really getting into it. It’s such a freak thing, and I don’t think that I have even done that in practice. But it’s ice, it’s slippery, it happens,” said Bell. “Everything else felt really good.

“Obviously, I’m super bummed. Who falls on their footwork? I guess Mariah Bell does, but it’s okay. I’ll learn from it, and I won’t make that mistake again.”

Amber Glenn, who skated the performance of her career, sits in fourth with 73.16 points. The 2014 junior champion has struggled with nerves since moving up to the senior level but is starting to look like a contender this season.

Gracie Gold, a former two-time U.S. champion, made her return to nationals after a three-year hiatus, She showed glimpses of the skater that had previously competed at an Olympic Winter Games and four World Championships. Gold landed in 13th place with 54.51 points after popping an intended triple loop.

“Everyone has been so lovely this week — the audience and fans in particular,” said Gold. “It’s heartwarming. It’s emotional, and it does help me believe in the goodness of humanity once again.”