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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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Tommy Ford ends U.S. men’s World Cup drought at Beaver Creek

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Tommy Ford earned his first World Cup win at age 30 and ended the U.S. men’s longest victory and podium droughts in two decades.

Ford won the giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Sunday, the last North American race on tour this season. He prevailed by eight tenths of a second combining times over two runs.

“It doesn’t beat doing it here. I’ve been working hard,” Ford, in his 86th World Cup start dating to 2009, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “No secret, just kept it simple and really trusted what I was doing.”

Norwegians Henrik Kristoffersen and Leif Kristian Nestvold-Haugen were second and third. American Ted Ligety, fourth after the opening run, finished 11th.

Full results are here.

Ford became the first U.S. man to win a World Cup since Travis Ganong took a downhill on Jan. 27, 2017. He also became the first U.S. male podium finisher since Ligety in January 2018. Both were the longest droughts for the program since the late 1990s.

Ford, a 2010 and 2018 Olympian who missed the 2014 Olympics due to a broken femur, had been working toward this moment.

He finished a World Cup career-high fourth at the season-opening giant slalom in Soelden, Austria, on Oct. 27. Last season, the Oregon native and former Dartmouth student had a pair of fifths.

The men’s World Cup moves to Val d’Isere, France, next weekend for a giant slalom and slalom.

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Katie Ledecky wins race by 30 seconds, takes back No. 1 ranking

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In her last race of the year, Katie Ledecky ensured she would finish 2019 as the world’s fastest 1500m freestyler.

Ledecky clocked 15:35.98 at the U.S. Open in Atlanta, winning the longest event on the Olympic pool program by 29.97 seconds. Typical for Ledecky, who owns the nine fastest times in history. This one came in at No. 8. Full meet results are here.

Ledecky scratched the 1500m free final at the summer world championships due to illness. Italian Simona Quadarella went on to win that title in 15:40.89, which was the world’s fastest time this year until Saturday night.

“I didn’t have time on my mind at all today. I just wanted to have a consistent swim,” Ledecky, undefeated in 1500m free finals for nine years, said on NBCSN. “That’s probably the best mile that I’ve had in a while.”

The women’s 1500m freestyle debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo. Ledecky is expected to add that to her Rio Olympic individual lineup of 200m, 400m and 800m frees, assuming she is top two in each event at the June Olympic trials.

In other events Saturday, Erika Brown handed Simone Manuel a rare defeat in the 100m freestyle. Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, clocked 53.42 and lowered her personal best by .71 between prelims and the final. Brown moved from sixth to fourth in the U.S. rankings this year, upping her stock as a contender to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool via a top-six finish at trials.

Brown previously lowered her personal best in the 50m free on Thursday. She ranks third in the U.S. this year in that event.

Emily Escobedo dealt Lilly King a rare domestic defeat in the 200m breaststroke. Escobedo lowered her personal best by .87 and clocked 2:22.00, moving to seventh fastest in the world this year and remaining fourth among Americans.

In the men’s 200m breast, Olympic champion Dmitriy Balandin of Kazakhstan was beaten by Cody Miller, the Olympic 100m breast silver medalist. Both were slower than their best times this year.

The next significant swim meet is a Tyr Pro Series stop in Knoxville, Tenn., from Jan. 16-19.

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