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Column: Mariah Bell finally earns her golden moment at U.S. figure skating championships

Mariah Bell competes in the women's free skate program during the U.S. figure skating championships.
Mariah Bell competes in the women’s free skate program at the U.S. figure skating championships in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday.
(Mark Zaleski / Associated Press)

The ninth time was the charm for Mariah Bell, who won her first U.S. figure skating championship in her ninth attempt at the senior level. Bell, at 25 the oldest U.S. women’s champion since 26-year-old Beatrix Loughran won in 1927, all but locked up a berth in the Beijing Olympics next month with a stirring free skate that completed a sweep of both segments of the competition.

Bell, who trains at Great Park Ice in Irvine with coaches Rafael Arutyunyan and former U.S. men’s competitor Adam Rippon, finished with a total of 216.25 points, to 213.85 for Karen Chen. She was overcome with emotion, hugging Rippon and fist-bumping or elbow-bumping well-wishers at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

“I’m 25, so it’s not like I’m ancient. In skating it kind of is,” Bell said after the medal ceremony. “Showing that age is just a number is part of what keeps me going.

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Madison Chock and Evan Bates earned a national-record score Friday as they try to capture their third title at the U.S. figure skating championships.

“There’s a lot to say about experience. You can tap into that and really use that to your advantage in competitions.”

Precocious Isabeau Levito, 14, finished third with 210.75 points. The New Jersey resident is too young to compete at the Olympics, but she met her goal of being a medalist and positioned herself to be a factor in 2026.

The women’s event was hit hard when two-time champion Alysa Liu, who was third after the short program, withdrew because she tested positive for COVID-19. She plans to petition the selection committee for an Olympic berth. Amber Glenn, who was second in 2021 but ranked 14th after the short program, also withdrew after testing positive for COVID-19. Bradie Tennell, the 2021 champion, withdrew a few days ago because of a foot injury. The members of the women’s team will be announced Saturday.

Bell sympathized with Liu and said she expects Liu to be selected to the Beijing team. “This variant is really serious and people are catching it left and right,” Bell said. “It’s unfortunate that she couldn’t do the long program, but she has a great season to back her up, so I don’t think she’ll have any problem.”

Mariah Bell performs a jump at the U.S. figure skating championships Friday.
(Mark Zaleski / Associated Press)

COVID-19 also affected the pairs event, with Brandon Frazier withdrawing from the competition a few days ago because of a positive COVID test.

Chen said she learned about Liu’s positive test when Liu didn’t appear at practice Friday morning. “I gave myself 10 minutes to just full-on freak out about it,” Chen said, adding that she was then able to gather herself and focus on her upcoming performance.

Bell had a one-point lead over Chen after the short program. Bell expanded that lead with a stirring performance to k.d. lang’s version of “Hallelujah,” music that Bell had used two years ago.

Bell got a negative grade of execution (a deduction from an element’s base value) once, on a triple lutz-double axel sequence she improvised to avoid repeating a double toe loop jump. Chen got a minus grade of execution on her opening double axel-triple toe loop, on a triple lutz, and on an imperfect triple loop-double toe loop. Bell earned 70.71 points for the executed elements in her long program and 69.99 points for her program components, for 140.70 points. Chen earned 70.28 points and 69.02 points for 139.30 points.

“It wasn’t a perfect skate. I was really fighting through a lot of it,” Bell said, “but I fought for every point, and the audience was so incredible. Really looking forward to taking this and figuring out how I can make things a little more solid heading into what’s next.”

Realistically, the American women have a faint chance to win a singles medal in Beijing because their young Russian rivals so easily reel off high-scoring quadruple jumps. But American ice dancers might contend for two medals, expectations that were reinforced when Madison Chock of Redondo Beach and partner Evan Bates earned a national-record score of 91.94 points Friday for their sultry rhythm dance. They can win their third national title Saturday, in the free dance.

Alysa Liu, looking to win her third U.S. figure skating title in four years, has withdrawn from competition after testing positive for COVID-19.

Chock and Bates danced to an eighth-place finish at the 2014 Olympics and were ninth in 2018; Bates also teamed with Emily Samuelson to finish 11th in 2010. Defending U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue were second with 89.39 points after an unusually wobbly program.

Chock and Bates were mesmerizing to a Billie Eilish medley, displaying remarkable unison and a show-stopping lift. “We just love the program,” Chock said. “It’s very inspiring for us and fun for us to skate it every time we practice it.”

Hubbell and Donohue, three-time U.S. champions who placed fourth in the 2018 Olympics, were stunned by their missteps. “Zach and I are a little bit disappointed today,” said Hubbell, who didn’t complete enough rotations on a twizzle, a one-footed, multi-rotation turn done while moving across the ice.

They’ll have a chance to make up for it Saturday. U.S. Figure Skating officials should carefully swaddle them — and every competitor — in bubble wrap to get them through the weekend healthy and, for those going on to the Olympics, give them the best chance to skate well in Beijing.

Elliott reported remotely.


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