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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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”