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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.

MORE: No burnout for ‘Rocket Man’ Nathan Chen

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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Bernard Lagat commits to Olympic marathon trials, eyes age record

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Bernard Lagat, a 44-year-old, five-time Olympian, reportedly said he will race the Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29 in a bid to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner.

“I feel like I can still improve,” Lagat said, according to Runner’s World. “I’m going to give it my best.”

Lagat, a two-time Olympic 1500m medalist, moved to the marathon after becoming the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at the Rio Games, placing fifth in the 5000m.

He clocked 2:17:20 in his 26.2-mile debut at the 2018 New York City Marathon. He lowered it to 2:12:10 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia on July 7 but did not previously commit to entering the trials.

If Lagat finishes in the top three at the marathon trials, he is in line to become the third-oldest U.S. Olympic track and field athlete in history. The oldest are race walker John Deni (49 years old in 1952) and hammer thrower Matt McGrath (48 years old in 1924), according to the OlyMADMen.

Lagat ranks outside the top 20 among U.S. marathoners in this Olympic cycle. The fastest are Galen Rupp (2:06:07), Leonard Korir (2:07:56, from Sunday’s Amsterdam Marathon) and Scott Fauble (2:09:09).

No American has competed in six Olympics in track and field. Lagat’s first two Olympic appearances were for Kenya.

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MORE: Olympic marathon moved from Tokyo to another Olympic host city

Natalie Geisenberger, Olympic luge champion, will not race this season

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For the first time in eight years, there will be a new World Cup women’s luge champion.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger — the seven-time defending champion and two-time defending Olympic singles gold medalist — announced that she isn’t sliding this season because she and her husband are expecting their first child in April.

“Our happiness is on the way,” Geisenberger said on her Facebook page.

Geisenberger plans to return next season and still has hopes to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she could match fellow German great Georg Hackl’s feat of winning three consecutive singles golds.

With Geisenberger not sliding this season, the top returning women from last year’s World Cup standings now are Julia Taubitz of Germany and Summer Britcher of the U.S. — second and third, respectively, in 2018-19.

Geisenberger has a luge record-tying four Olympic golds in all, being part of Germany’s victories in the team relays in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018 as well.

Her 49 World Cup singles wins are another record, and she’s one of two sliders to win seven consecutive World Cup titles — Austria’s Markus Prock took the men’s championships each year from 1990-91 through 1996-97.

Geisenberger’s break from sliding only adds to how the World Cup standings — and the German roster — will look very different this season. Dajana Eitberger, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup standings, is also pregnant and expecting a baby in February. And Tatjana Huefner, who was sixth overall last season, has retired.

Huefner won five consecutive World Cup titles before Geisenberger took over and began her seven-year streak of championships. Geisenberger earned medals 11 times in 12 singles races last year — six golds, four silvers and one bronze.

“We are so happy for you even though we will miss you this season!” two-time Olympic singles gold medalist Felix Loch of Germany wrote in a message to Geisenberger on Instagram.

Geisenberger has been in the top three of the World Cup standings in 12 consecutive seasons. She was third in 2007-08, finished second in each of the next four seasons, and then began her title streak in 2012-13.

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MORE: U.S. luge star adds doubles after Olympic singles medal