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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