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Nebelhorn marks fresh start for Mariah Bell

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When Mariah Bell takes the ice at Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany this afternoon, she’ll probably focus on the four-word opening line of “Radar,” one of two songs that comprise her short program: Confidence is a must.

“Right after (2019) nationals, Adam (Rippon) said, ‘You should skate to Britney Spears,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘Uh, okay,’ because it’s really not my thing.”

But Bell, 23, remembered listening to the pop star’s hits as a kid growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Suddenly, Rippon’s suggestion struck a chord.

“I loved her music, and so I thought, ‘I think I love that idea,’” the U.S. bronze medalist said. “Yeah, it’s different, but that’s my goal, to grow that (performance) aspect of my skating. So, I’m really excited about the challenge.”

This week marks Bell’s third trip to Nebelhorn, a prestigious early-season competition and part of the ISU Challenger Series; she finished fifth there in 2014 and fourth last season. With none of the top Russian or Japanese skaters competing, she has good chance to make the podium.

The entry list is here.

It’s also the first time Bell competes internationally since her ninth-place finish at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, where she was the center of an international media firestorm after accusations surfaced that she intentionally tried to injure Eun-Soo Lim of Korea during a practice collision. A day after the incident, the ISU released a statement saying that it found no evidence that Bell intended any harm.

“I felt like (at) the event itself, I was sort of drowning in this false information, and I didn’t know where it was coming from,” Bell said. “The thing with social media is, there are people behind a screen, and you don’t even know if they are real. … Looking back, I do feel like I’ve become a stronger competitor and skater and  person.”

A continued Q&A with Bell below:

Last season at worlds, you had one of the most traumatic experiences possible, barring serious injury. You came through with a top-10 finish. Does that help your confidence?

Bell: Sure. The pressure that I felt was more than I would even feel, probably, at the Olympic Games. It was just like a nightmare. I don’t even know how to describe it. But the other thing is, yes it happened, and my character pulled through and spoke for itself. I didn’t feel like I had to do much defending, other than just skate the way I could.

Can you take away any positives from it?

Bell: I look at it now with a bird’s eye view and I have struggled with nerves before, and that (experience) was a thousand times more than anything. It was really just a matter of staying in the moment for each element and knowing that I can do it under those circumstances. I feel like for sure I’ve learned so much. Not that competing should be a piece of cake, but it’ll be nothing compared to that.

This will be your fourth season training in Rafael Arutunian’s group in Southern California, and you’ve added Adam Rippon to your coaching team.

Bell: I would say Rafael is my main coach, but when I need help on specific things I   don’t always go to him. (For) how many programs I should do (in practice), or how many sections or even the spins, I have Vera (Arutunian, Rafael’s wife) and Nadia Kanaeva there for that. I work a lot with Adam on my planning of the season. I see Rafael as my technical advisor.

What, specifically, has Adam brought to your training?

Bell: Obviously, since Adam is a student of Rafael, he truly understands what it’s like to work with Rafael – his techniques, his patterns. So, it’s a huge advantage for me to use him as a choreographer because he really understands how much speed or the pattern I need going into different elements. He’ll be like, ‘Mmm, I don’t know. You look like you don’t have enough speed,’ and then he’ll do it himself. I’ll watch and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I need more speed.’

Your free skate, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne to k.d. lang’s “Hallelujah,” is the complete opposite of your short.

Bell: Shae-Lynn is amazing. I have to bring food on to the ice, because you work four hours straight and she doesn’t get tired. There’s always a reason or an emotion behind every movement, and I think that’s why her programs play so well.

My short program is a little bit different, and the free skate is totally me. I love it.

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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World Alpine Skiing Championships on for 2021 after request to delay rejected

Alpine Skiing World Championships
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GENEVA (AP) — A request by the organizers of next year’s skiing world championships in Italy to postpone the event by one year was rejected Thursday by the International Ski Federation.

FIS ruled that the event will go ahead from Feb. 9-21, 2021, in Cortina d’Ampezzo — the highlight of an Alpine season that faces challenges to find safe protocols for international travel and attending races in Europe, North America and China.

The Veneto region of northern Italy was hit hard by the coronavirus and the season-ending World Cup races in Cortina in mid-March were canceled. That week-long event was to be a test for the 2021 worlds.

“The last month of efforts to come to this solution demonstrates the strong collaborative spirit of the ski family and stakeholders.” FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper said.

Organizers in Italy have said they expect losses of about 30 million euros ($34 million) if the worlds are also canceled. They asked for a postponement to March 2022, which would be only weeks after the Beijing Olympics.

“But we will be ready in any case and we will show that these world championships can change the history of a region despite the current difficulties,” Alessandro Benetton, president of the Cortina organizing committee, said in a statement.

Italian racer Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, said she was “happy for Cortina because it will host the first major international event after the coronavirus epidemic.”

Cortina, which hosted the 1956 Olympics, will co-host the 2026 Winter Games with Milan and use the worlds as a showcase for the resort.

The women’s World Cup downhill on the Olympia delle Tofane course each January is one of the most scenic in the sport with a signature jump between tall outcrops of jagged rock.

The Dolomites venue was awarded the 2021 worlds by FIS after missing out as a candidate four straight times from 2013-19.

MORE: Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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Russia track and field athlete clearance frozen due to unpaid fine

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MONACO (AP) — The program allowing Russian track athletes to compete internationally will be frozen because the country’s federation failed to pay a fine on time, World Athletics said Thursday.

The Russian track federation, known as RusAF, owes a $5 million fine and another $1.31 million in costs for various doping-related work and legal wrangles. World Athletics said RusAF missed Wednesday’s deadline to pay.

World Athletics said it would freeze the work of the Doping Review Board, which vets Russian athletes who want the “authorized neutral athlete” status that allows them to compete internationally, and its taskforce monitoring RusAF’s anti-doping reforms.

World Athletics said both bodies will be “put on hold” until its council meets to discuss the situation at the end of July.

“RusAF is letting its athletes down badly,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said in a statement. “We have done as much as we can to expedite our ANA process and support RusAF with its reinstatement plan, but seemingly to no avail.”

RusAF president Yevgeny Yurchenko earlier told the Tass state news agency that his federation’s finances were damaged by the coronavirus pandemic and that it had asked for more time to pay.

World Athletics’ statement didn’t directly address that issue, but said Russia hadn’t indicated when it would pay.

Russia was fined $10 million by World Athletics in March, with $5 million suspended for two years, after the federation admitted to breaking anti-doping rules and obstructing an investigation.

The Athletics Integrity Unit said fake documents were used under the previous management to give an athlete an alibi for missing a doping test.

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