The 20-year-old was the very first competitor to take the ice for the start of the women’s figure skating event in the 2018 Winter Olympics on Wednesday morning (Tuesday night stateside).
figure skater Bradie Tennell can’t remember the last time she fell — until today.
Basically an unknown outside her sport a year ago, Tennell catapulted into the public eye with a third-place finish at Skate America in the fall.
She followed that with a win at the national figure skating championships in January, essentially guaranteeing her a spot on Team USA.
Until this week Tennell, a Chicago-area native, handled the growing competitive pressure and spotlight with the same calm that has distinguished her career in recent months — exemplified by her jumps, landed over and over and over again.
In the skating team event’s ladies’ short program, she placed fifth with a season’s best, helping the Americans ultimately earn a bronze.
(Her artistry, in the judges’ eyes, is less compelling than her technical prowess.) But when she returned to South Korea’s Gangneung Ice Arena for her individual event, she made an uncharacteristic mistake, falling on the second jump in her short program.
Before that slip, she told reporters afterward, she couldn’t recall the last time she had fallen.
And despite her stumble, Tennell remained succinct and forward-looking.
“I could tell that something was just a little off,” she said of the fall. You make mistakes, so you just gotta get up and keep going.” Keep Following PEOPLE’s Complete Coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics “My timing was just a little off and my left arm got a little away from me, so I wasn’t able to get the snap,” she explained.
She realized the issue coming out of her first jump, in the fractions of a second before the next.
Tennell said going first in the event was its own challenge, but one to overcome like all the others.