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

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NASHVILLE – New National Champion Mariah Bell needed a reminder that she had been figure skating for a long time, one way or another, somehow surviving teenage battalions in a sport who skews so young.

“Have I been a senior for new years? ”she asked a newsroom late Friday night, looking incredulous and referring to the senior level of skating, which is the highest level in the sport.

A sea of ​​heads gave him back his head.

After years of surviving a demanding sport with her mental and physical strength, and years of watching other top skaters come and go, Bell, 25, won her first U.S. National Championship on Friday, becoming the oldest national singles champion in 95 years.

Her victory solidified her place on the US squad for next month’s Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, where the Russian women will be the big favorites in singles and could potentially win the medals. Bell will be the oldest American singles skater at the Olympics since 1928.

The US figure skating named Bell, Karen Chen and Alysa Liu to the Olympic team on Saturday after reviewing all of their work over the past year. Chen, a 2018 Olympian, was second behind Bell on Friday. Liu, two-time national champion and top-ranked U.S. skater this fall, withdrew from the national championships on Friday after testing positive for coronavirus.

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

America’s top skaters have been on their toes at nationals, and not just because Olympic spots are on the line. They’ve trained and competed here in Nashville just as the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus is sweeping the world a few. weeks before the Beijing Games.

Competitors are aware that testing positive for the virus could prevent them from competing in the Olympics and ruin their lifelong dream.

At least six skaters have tested positive this week and have withdrawn from the national championships, including Liu, who was considered a favorite to make the Olympic team due to her strong performance last season on the international circuit. Liu, 16, won her first senior national championship at age 13 in 2019, and she won again in 2020. (Bradie Tennell, winner in 2018 and 2021, has withdrawn from this year’s competition due to ‘a foot injury.)

Amber Glenn, one of the top skaters considered for the Olympic team, also tested positive on Friday, the day of the free skate. On social media, she said she had been feeling bad for the past few days but thought it was just nerves or maybe allergies.

Brandon Frazier, who skates with Alexa Knierim in pairs on Wednesday tested positive after waking up with symptoms. Frazier and Knierim are the top ranked pair team in the United States.

And on Saturday morning, three other competitors at the national championships – a men’s singles skater and an ice dance team – tested positive, but none were actually in contention for the Olympic team.

Fortunately for the skaters who had to retire from this last big competition before Beijing, the national championship is not an Olympic tryout event, as it is in other sports, where the top finishers automatically win awards. places in the US Olympic team.

The accolade helped Liu, who watched Friday’s free skate from her hotel room while in seclusion, and could save Frazier and Knierim’s Olympic dreams as well. The pairs, ice dance and men’s singles championships were scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

However, it is not yet clear how long it will take for potential Olympians battling the virus to feel better or start testing negative, which only adds to their stress.

Many competitors plan to leave for China in just over two 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.

After being named to the squad on Saturday, Liu appeared on the big screen at Bridgestone Arena and greeted the jubilant fans. On social media on Friday, she said she was feeling good mentally and physically. Earlier in the week, Frazier said he was feeling unwell, with severe symptoms.

The positive tests rocked the best skaters. Chen, 2017 national champion and 2018 Olympian from Fremont, Calif., Said she had to take a moment to address her concerns after realizing that Liu, who was due to skate in the final group with her on Friday, was not at the rink.

“The news was very, very shocking and it’s very unfortunate to hear it,” said Chen, who placed fourth at two world championships. “I gave myself about 10 minutes to completely freak out about this. I was like, OK, you can think about it for 10 minutes and after that you have to concentrate on your skating.

The technique worked.

Chen, 22, skated with the flair and confidence of an Olympic veteran on Friday. Winning the silver medal at the national championships was a pleasure, she said with a laugh, as she had already won gold at the national championships once and had also won bronze three times. The silver medal was the only medal he lacked. Now she has a full set.

But the level of skating Chen and Bell showed on Friday fell short of the standard set by the world’s top skaters from countries like Russia, Japan and South Korea, proof that their medal hopes in Beijing will be slim. .

Neither of the American skaters have performed a quadruple jump or a triple axel, which was an unthinkable combination of elements just four years ago, but has since become almost necessary to win on the stage. global. And none of the skaters in their free skate even performed a triple-triple jump combination, a staple for medal contenders at international events, although they each did one of those triple-triples in the short program. .

Isabeau Levito, of Mount Holly, NJ, clocked a triple-triple in the free skate before finishing third with a performance that received a standing ovation. Still, that didn’t help his chances of making the Olympic team. At 14, Levito isn’t old enough to compete in the Winter Games, but she didn’t seem depressed about it.

Performing so well at the national championships, she said, made her feel “a great sense of light, warmth and happiness to see that people love what I do.”

Bell, who is from Westminster, Colorado, remembers when she was a young teenage girl. On several occasions, she wanted to stop the sport.

Once, she recalls, her parents bought her a skating lesson package and she told them she didn’t want to take any more lessons. Her parents said, “That’s good.” They never pushed her into sports, and that actually fueled her love for it, she said.

This love for skating permeated Bell’s performance on Friday. During her elegant and ethereal free program on KD Lang’s “Hallelujah”, she smiled and beamed, making even the most 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.

Bell later admitted that she was indeed “old” for women’s figure skating. But the important thing, she says, is that she doesn’t feel old. Why should there be an expiration date for skaters if they are still having fun?

“I want it to be a known fact that skating doesn’t stop at a certain age,” she said.



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