For Emily Soto, watching her onetime rival and now best friend make it to the Olympic arena evoked a feeling beyond description.
“I’m blown away,” said Soto, 21, just a year older than Olympic figure skater Bradie Tennell, whose ascent to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang has been nothing short of astounding to many observers.
“It’s been absolutely amazing to see the progress she’s made, especially this year,” Soto said. “To see it all come together so quickly for her, it’s just been unbelievable.”
Soto was among dozens of friends, fans and families who gathered Tuesday night in the lobby of Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove, Tennell’s home rink, to watch her compete in the women’s short program.
With bated breath they gaped in awe as the Carpentersville native took to the ice first, cheering and oohing at each successful turn and jump, and quietly gasping as Tennell fell for the first time in an Olympic event.
It was tough to watch, but all eyes remained fixed on the three television screens until Tennell’s performance ended. She scored 64.01 points — a far cry from her personal best of 68.94 points in the women’s short program portion of the team event, helping Team USA earn the bronze medal.
“I thought she did really well,” said Bailey Thorstenson, 15, of Crystal Lake. “It was a little rough. She brought it back, though.”
Thorstenson said it’s every skater’s dream to get to the Olympics someday.
The fact that Tennell made it was enough for those closest to her who have watched her talent grow over the years.
It’s Tennell’s Olympic debut coming after she had a couple of rough seasons due to injuries that kept her off the ice for several months. She earned the spot after a surprising win at the 2018 U.S. national championship, having competed before in only one Grand Prix event, Skate America 2017.
Tennell’s consistency is her strongest attribute that got her there.
“When Bradie skates, you can see how much she loves the ice,” said Alexis Kaplan, 22, of Vernon Hills, a fellow skater and a coach at Twin Rinks who has been watching Tennell since she started training there more than 10 years ago. “She has so much support here from her friends and the Twin Rinks family. You can see that really helps her. I am so beyond excited for her. We are extremely proud of her.”
Tennell’s coaches from Twin Rinks, Denise Myers and Jeremy Allen, are with her in Pyeongchang.
She’s the rink’s first Olympian who literally grew up there, said Laura Kaplan, skating director.
“She has the most self-discipline and self-motivation like no other,” Kaplan said adding, while many Olympic-level skaters train in Colorado or California, Tennell never left.
“She decided to stay here. She believed in her coaches,” Kaplan said. “She never felt like she had to leave for making her goal of the Olympics. That’s what’s remarkable.”
Supporters will host another viewing party at 7 p.m. Thursday at Twin Rinks for Tennell’s performance in the women’s free skate event.