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More mature Mariah Bell has more momentum this year ahead of world championships

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Mariah Bell took bronze at the U.S. Championships for the second time in January, where she said she was comforted by the presence of her boyfriend, parents, friends, and extended family.

“I have my parents and that’s so awesome that they can come,” she told NBCSports.com/figure-skating after the competition wrapped up in Detroit. “But it’s nice… I live with him. It’s very ‘every day.’ It feels not so huge.”

She then placed sixth at the Four Continents Championships in Anaheim in February – essentially a local competition for the California-based skater.

Her next stop is the world championships in Saitama, Japan from March 18-24, where she’ll look to improve upon a 12th place finish from Worlds in 2018.

Here’s what Bell said to NBCSports.com/figure-skating in Detroit about her nationals performances, how her maturity helped prepare her for the competition, and the easiest part about creating her costumes this season.

How do you think you measured up to the goals you set for this U.S. Championships?

I’ve had a little bit of time to look back. It’s a little frustrating to know, obviously, the difference between winning and not winning would’ve been Lutz, the fall, or the mistake in the short. But I’m really proud of how everything went.

It was tough to skate last. It’s very different for me. I’ve never done that before. When I drew that I was like, ‘Okay, gonna be different.’ But it’s also super cool to challenge yourself in those ways.

Did you hear the scores and the audience and all of that?

I didn’t hear anybody else except for obviously Alysa [Liu, the eventual champion]. I was listening to music, so I wasn’t really paying attention. I totally anticipated her getting a huge score. She’s doing two triple Axels! She’s so solid. I wasn’t surprised or anything. I was like, ‘This is exactly what I expected, it’s all good.’

Maybe in years past, I wouldn’t have been able to focus back in on myself, which I feel like I did. That’s the part that I think I’ve been working on a lot as I grow up in this sport.

Do you feel more mature in yourself and in your skating, if you compare nationals this year to nationals last year?

Absolutely. I think that comes from more time spent with my coach. I also had a much better season this year than I did last year at this time. I did well on my Grand Prixes. I did well at both my senior Bs.

Overall, I felt like I had a lot of great momentum coming into these championships. It can be easy to get overwhelmed but the bottom line was I just had to do what I’d been doing all season.

That’s the sort of maturity that I think I’ve gained this season. I probably wouldn’t have been able to just relax and be like, ‘Okay, I just have to do what I do every day, or what I’ve done this season, here.’ It’s a much different mindset that I approached this competition with.

Do you feel like you’re more of a top dog at the rink now?

I wouldn’t say top dog. I train with Nathan [Chen] occasionally, whenever he’s back [from Yale University]. Michal Brezina, he went to the [Grand Prix] Final, a really great skater from the Czech Republic. We have a top Japanese girl who unfortunately didn’t have a great nationals, but she’s a really great skater. We have a top Korean girl who just got second at her nationals.

I’m surrounded by a lot of great skating. I do have a little more experience which helps me. It’s really cool to train with them because they really push me. I’m not someone who’s like, ‘Oh, I’m tired,’ but I’ll be like, I’m starting to feel a little fatigued but they’re still going, so I can do a little bit more.

What was the creative process like with your costumes this season?

I started working with Lisa McKinnon. She did all of Ashley [Wagner]’s dresses. This is my first year working with her. She sort of does it all. You go in, you give her a piece of music. She’s very open to suggestions. I didn’t have any. I was like, whatever you think. I talked a little bit with [short program choreographer] Adam [Rippon] about maybe what he would kind of want, and also with [free skate choreographer] Shae-Lynn [Bourne].

I had sort of an idea, but she really took over. Every dress that she’s made that I’ve seen is stunning. I just feel really lucky to get to work with her. It’s nice she was in LA, so it wasn’t far for fittings. Literally, I got measured, fit, got the fittings done, they fit perfectly, and she did the crystals. And super easy!

Sometimes skaters go through two or three costumes in a season.

Yes! And that’s what happened to me last year. I was going through different programs and dresses! And this year it was like, organized and got taken care of fast.

MORE: Bradie Tennell on her improved artistry this season

As a reminder, you can watch the world championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Adam Jones, five-time MLB All-Star, becomes Olympic eligible

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Should the U.S. qualify for baseball’s Olympic return, a five-time MLB All-Star could be eligible for its roster in Tokyo. And he has interest.

Outfielder Adam Jones signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s domestic league, which, unlike MLB, will take an Olympic break next summer to allow players to take part in the first Olympic baseball tournament in 12 years.

Jones, 34, made no mention of Olympic eligibility in a social media post announcing the signing. His Instagram avatar is a photo of him in a Team USA jersey from the World Baseball Classic.

Jones’ agent later said that Jones does have interest in playing for the U.S. in Tokyo, should an American team qualify in the spring.

“To play over in Japan has always been a desire of Adam’s, and the timing worked out that the Olympics happens to be played in Tokyo the first year of his contract,” Jones’ agent wrote in an email. “It wasn’t one of the factors on his decision BUT more of a [sic] addition to the overall package to decide to go.”

Jones called being part of the U.S.’ 2017 WBC title, “probably the best experience of my life so far, especially with sports,” according to The Associated Press. He was one of five players to be on the U.S. team at each of the last two World Baseball Classics.

The U.S. still faces a difficult task to qualify for the Tokyo Games. It lost to Mexico last month in its first of up to three chances at qualifying tournaments, using a roster of mostly double-A and triple-A caliber players.

Major Leaguers are not expected to be made available for qualifying or for the Tokyo Games.

The next two qualifying tournaments will be in late March (an Americas qualifier in Arizona) and early April (a final, global qualifying event in Chinese Taipei). It remains to be seen how MLB clubs will go about releasing minor leaguers for a tournament that will take place during spring training.

Jones could become the third player with prior MLB All-Star experience to compete at the Olympics from any nation, joining Australian catcher Dave Nilsson and Canadian pitcher Jason Dickson.

Jones made five All-Star teams during an 11-year stint with the Baltimore Orioles from 2008-18 before playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season.

Many players competed at the Olympics before making an MLB All-Star team, including Stephen Strasburg and Jason Giambi.

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Russia boxers to boycott Olympics if sanctions not lifted

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Russian boxers will only take part in the Tokyo Olympics if doping sanctions forcing them to compete as neutral athletes are overturned, the general secretary of the Russian Boxing Federation told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Umar Kremlev said he has spoken with the Olympic boxing team and they “unanimously” rejected the conditions laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency as punishment for manipulating doping data.

The WADA sanctions, announced on Monday, ban the use of the Russian team name, flag or anthem at a range of major sports competitions over the next four years, including next year’s Olympics.

“They said we won’t go without our flag and anthem,” Kremlev said. “We aren’t going for medals, but for that feeling that I brought the highest honor home for my country.”

Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.

“This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,” Valentina Matvienko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.

There is a precedent. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Soviet Union refused to compete in the Olympics and hosted its own Spartakiads — named after the ancient rebel slave Spartacus — with a strong socialist slant. However, the Soviet Union began competing at the Olympics in 1952 and Russians generally take great pride in the country’s Olympic achievements since then.

If the sanctions aren’t overturned, Kremlev said Russian boxers would prefer to turn pro rather than compete at the Olympics.

“A world champion (in professional boxing) is better known than an Olympic champion,” Kremlev said, adding the Russian anthem would be played before pro title fights.

Kremlev said boxers are being asked to shoulder the blame for offenses committed in other sports. He said they would still stay at home even if Russia’s athletes in other sports decided to take part.

“If other sports are guilty and people have breached the WADA code, why are we punished?” he said. “We are for honest sport and against doping. We want our sport to be clean … If someone breaks the rules, we push them out.”

Russia is a major power in amateur and Olympic boxing. It hosted both men’s and women’s world championships this year, finishing at the top of the medals table at the women’s event and second in the men’s championships. The International Olympic Committee has taken direct charge of boxing at the Tokyo Olympics after criticizing chronic financial problems and infighting at the International Boxing Association.

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov talked up Russia’s chances of overturning the WADA sanctions.

“I think that there is every basis to appeal the decision, because our experts have presented their position, and they have the same database as WADA does,” Kolobkov said in comments reported by state news agency TASS. “There is an answer to every question and the whole process is ahead of us.”

The official decision on whether to dispute the sanctions will be made on Dec. 19 by the Russian anti-doping agency’s supervisory board, but senior figures, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, have signaled their preference for taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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