Mariah Bell wins U.S. figure skating title and berth in Beijing


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NASHVILLE – New National Champion Mariah Bell wants everyone to know that she is considered “old” in the sport of women’s figure skating, and that she doesn’t care.

Why would age matter when at 25, she’s finally a champion equipped to take the pressure of the Olympics after nearly a decade at the top of her sport? Why should there be an expiration date for skaters, she said, if they are still having fun?

“I want it to be a known fact that skating doesn’t end at a certain age,” she said of her discipline, which is known for celebrating youth.

Bell is proof that early retirement for skaters doesn’t have to be the norm. On Friday, she became the oldest U.S. women’s national champion in 95 years, solidifying her place on the U.S. squad for the Beijing Olympics next month. At these Games, she will be the oldest American woman to compete in Olympic singles skating since 1928.

U.S. figure skating named Bell, Karen Chen, 22, and Alysa Liu, 16, to the Olympic team on Saturday after reviewing their work over the past year. Chen, a 2018 Olympian, won the silver medal at the national championships on Friday. Liu, who won the national championship at 13 in 2019, and again in 2020, withdrew from the national championships on Friday after testing positive for the coronavirus.

With an Olympic place finally in hand, and after a stressful and chaotic week, Bell savored his victory and exhaled long and hard.

She and America’s other top skaters have been on the alert at the national championships, and not just because Olympic spots are on the line. They trained and competed in Nashville as the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus swept through the world a few weeks before the Beijing Games.

At least six skaters tested positive last week and withdrew from the national championships, including Brandon Frazier, who skates with Alexa Knierim in pairs and won the national title last year. They are likely to be named to the Olympic team although they are not competing this year.

With two American teams as a couple heading to Beijing, the other place will most likely be filled by either Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who won the couple event on Saturday, or Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who won the couple event on Saturday. finished in second place. The team will be announced on Sunday.

Liu, who has been isolated in her hotel room since testing positive, appeared on the big screen at the Bridgestone Arena on Saturday and greeted jubilant fans after being announced as an Olympic squad selection. She later said she was feeling great mentally and physically and watched the women’s free skate on Friday with friends who joined her for a virtual viewing party. It was fun to be a spectator for a change, she said.

Liu, who is from Richmond, Calif., Was unsure of when she could return to Colorado to resume training, but the Olympic clock is ticking. Many competitors plan to leave for China in less than three weeks, and they must follow strict rules, including testing negative for the virus, to be allowed entry into the country. In some cases, people who contracted the virus continued to test positive for weeks.

“It depends on how quickly I can test negative again,” Liu said of leaving for his practice rink in Colorado. “I guess I’ll just stay here until I run out of Covid.”

The positive tests at the national championships rocked the top skaters as they prepared to compete, but Chen and Bell said they only took a moment to worry about it before returning to competition mode.

“I gave myself about 10 minutes to panic completely,” Chen said.

Their idea of ​​focusing only on the things they can control will come in handy in Beijing, where the Americans will face highly skilled competitors from Russia (which won medals at the world championships last year), Japan and from South Korea. Some of these competitors have demonstrated advanced elements that were barely imaginable four years ago, including landing quadruple jumps not once but several times in a single program. These advanced items are worth more points – so many more points that Americans are unlikely to be able to keep up with.

Neither Bell nor Chen are capable of pulling off a quadruple jump or a triple axis, moves that have become almost necessary to win on the world stage. And neither of the skaters, in her free skate on Friday, performed a triple-triple jump combination, a staple for medal contenders at international events.

While Liu was the first American woman to land a quad in an international competition and was the first woman in the world to land a quad and a triple axis in the same program, she has not been seriously involved in quad biking since March 2020. , she said, and isn’t planning to do one anytime soon.

Chen, from Fremont, Calif., Is not giving up hope that the Americans can perform well in the Olympics, given her fourth place finish at the world championships last year.

“I really went out there just thinking I’m going to skate my best and perform the heck of my program,” she said, adding, “So you know anything can happen.”

Adam Rippon, an Olympic bronze medalist who coaches Bell, also believes Americans shouldn’t be thinking about medals or placement. He advised Bell to skate purely for herself, which is exactly what brought her joy in the sport.

“What Mariah needs to focus on is that at the end of the day people don’t always remember the results, but they will remember the skates and they will remember how you made them feel.” , did he declare. noted.

Bell, who is from Westminster, Colorado, readily joined. She’s been in the sport for so long because she loves the way it feels.

Once, when she was very young, she recalls, her parents bought her a skating lesson package, and she quickly told them she wanted to quit. Her parents shrugged their shoulders and said, “It’s okay. But without any prompting, she returned to the rink. Again and again. Her mom and dad never pushed her into sports, she said, and that fueled her love for it.

This love for skating permeated Bell’s performance on Friday. During her elegant and ethereal free skating on KD Lang’s version of “Hallelujah”, she smiled and beamed, making her more difficult elements seem straightforward. In her sparkling burgundy dress, she looked like a ballet dancer spinning and floating above the ice, gently landing six triple jumps, as if she were weightless.

This was the moment she had worked towards for years, especially last year.

When her ex-fiancé broke off their engagement last year, it almost crushed her, she said, but in the end, it refocused her. No more distractions. With the Beijing Olympics in sight, she redoubled her efforts to meet her skating goals, vowing to use her life experience, both good and bad, both on and off the ice – the experience of an “old” skater, shall we say – to push her towards success.

It worked.

“To me it’s kind of like my superpower,” she said.

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