Mariah Bell reacts after skating in the women’s free skating at the US Figure Skating Championships on January 7, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
When Adam Rippon offered advice to Mariah Bell this week, he thought back to the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where he applied for the PyeongChang Olympics.
Rippon, fourth in the United States this season, landed one of three men’s spots. But he did not make it easy for himself.
“During the Olympic year, I felt that everything I did was one step closer to the Games, especially at the national championships,” said Rippon, 2018 team bronze medalist. I was getting to a point in my free program, I was like, “Oh, I did that.” And then suddenly I made these two random mistakes.
Rippon has coached Bell for the past few seasons, working alongside Rafael Arutunian in Irvine, Calif. He wanted his student to learn from his missteps.
“I wasn’t totally there,” Rippon said. “I told Mariah to stay totally present. Give everything 100 percent. If you do, you will walk away satisfied. The rules of the game are level and you just have to go out and do your job.
Bell took to the ice in Nashville, Tennessee on Friday, taking Rippon’s words with her: Stay the course. Never lose your focus. Don’t even take the simplest movement for granted.
Four minutes later, she had produced a performance that made her the champion of the United States.
“I fought for a lot of time,” Bell said. “I really fought for every point. … I can’t wait to take this and figure out how to make it a little bit more solid, before I move on.
Bell’s free program, tuned to kd lang’s rendition of “Hallelujah”, was far from perfect. She didn’t try a triple-triple combination, and the second jump of an improvised triple lutz-double axel streak was shaky. He obtained 140.70 points, much less than the programs of the last two American champions, Bradie Tennell and Alysa Liu, notched up. Combined with her short program, her 216.25 points edged out Karen Chen, who won the silver medal with 213.85.
Each of Bell’s moves was polished and completed, the performance was overflowing with emotion, and Shae-Lynn Bourne’s open and fluid choreography suited the skater perfectly. Bell first performed on “Hallelujah” during the 2019-20 season, so returning there for the Olympic year was a natural decision.
“This program, I have such a connection with it, just from the moment the music starts,” Bell said. “I feel like I am capable of being in my own little world. It’s really something that I love to train, and I try to smile when I train too, so it feels natural to me when I’m here. But to be honest, it’s really (natural). I really like this program.
Bell and “Hallelujah” is an almost perfect marriage of skater and gear that’s unlikely, if not impossible, to happen with a young teenage champion. After her victory, questions inevitably centered on Bell’s age: at 25, she is the oldest United States champion since 1927.
“Personally I think it’s really exciting to be a little bit older and to show that you can do it at a young age and also at an older age,” said Bell, adding that hitting a triple axis in competition was a great source of motivation. I want it to be a known fact that skating doesn’t stop at a certain age. I think the idea of wanting to show that age is just a number is part of what keeps me going.
Skating on “Butterfly Lovers,” Chen also produced a mature and polished free skate, with six clean triple jumps. But his combination of double-axis opening and triple toe loop made the second jump judged under-shot, while her triple-buckle closure suit had a shaky landing.
The 2017 United States champion, who placed 11th in PyeongChang, explained what kept her in the sport.
“I love to skate, I love to be on the ice, I love to train, I love to compete whether it’s going well or not,” said Chen. “In addition, this desire to continue to improve. I know I can skate well and do good jumps.
Like Bell, Chen added that landing from a triple axle was high on his priority list.
“Mariah and I have nice, tall twin axles,” she said. “We should be able to do triples.”
Isabeau Levito, 14 of Mount Holly, New Jersey, captured the bronze medal with a ballet free skate at the Swan Lake Trials that included two triple-triple jump combinations, as well as stunning spins. She placed second behind Bell in the free skate with 139.75 points and finished with 210.75 points.
Levito is too young to be considered for the Beijing Olympic team. Figure skaters must be 15 years of age by July 1 of the previous year to be eligible. His next event will likely be the 2022 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, which will take place in Sofia, Bulgaria, in March.
The US figure skating will announce the three-member women’s team for Beijing on Saturday. It will definitely include Bell and Chen. Two-time United States champion Liu is expected to take third place.
Liu, who finished third in Thursday’s short program, tested positive for COVID-19 before the free skate and was unable to compete on Friday. Drew Meekins, his coach, said they asked Liu to be on the team.