Mariah Bell is sheltering in place in the family RV

Leave a comment

Downsizing has its advantages, even if you’re sheltering in place due to the coronavirus.

Take Mariah Bell’s family, for example.

Bell, older sister Morgan, parents Kendra and Andrew, and Bell’s rabbit Gizmo are all practicing social distancing in the family’s 45-foot recreational vehicle (RV).

“When you see an RV driving down the street, you may not think about what it looks like in the inside,” Bell said. “It really is like a house.”

A few years ago, Kendra and Andrew confronted an empty nest. Mariah was training in Southern California in Rafael Arutunian’s group; Morgan had joined Disney on Ice. With Andrew working for a chemical company in Switzerland, and Kendra splitting her time between Switzerland and her parents’ home in Dallas, they just didn’t need their house in Colorado. So, they sold it and purchased an RV in November 2018.

“My parents can move it anywhere they like,” Bell said. “Right now, we’re in Palm Springs (California). We’ve been staying here the past few weeks and will be here through the end of April.”

Far from complaining of cabin fever, the skater considers her family more fortunate than millions of others holed up at home.

“We haven’t been able to spend this much time together in several years, so it’s been nice,” she said. “Maybe that’s the silver lining for everyone. If they are lucky enough, they can spend this time with their family.”

Bell’s longtime boyfriend, French skater Romain Ponsart, is waiting out the pandemic in his home country.

Passing April in Palm Springs – where it’s sunny most of the time and temperatures top out in the 80s – helps to cushion the blow of missing the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships, which were cancelled last month.

“I had the best, by far, season of my career and I’m obviously disappointed I didn’t get to end it with a big bang,” said Bell, who won two Grand Prix medals last fall and a silver medal at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January.

“It just puts things in perspective. Figure skating is so small. What we are dealing with now is far more important. I’m very disappointed in my athlete’s brain that I didn’t get to do worlds, but I absolutely understand.”

After a show-stopping performance of her “Hallelujah” free skate at the U.S. Championships, Bell was poised to improve on her ninth-place finish at last season’s worlds. While she admits she doesn’t know how this long break will affect her jumps – “I guess we’ll see what happens when I get back on the ice” – she is positive about her 2020-21 campaign.

“I have this upcoming season and a season after that until the [2022] Olympic Games, and this might be the perfect break I need, and maybe didn’t even know I needed,” she said. “I’m excited to build on the momentum I gained this past season.”

The Bells spend much of the day outside, where paddleboard, swimming and other outdoor activities are available. Mariah stays fit with a regimen provided by the Olympic Training Center (OTC); sometimes, Morgan and Andrew join in. In the evening, she and mom Kendra go for walks.

“The distance of the whole motor coach country club we’re at is about two miles, so I can run that or walk that,” Bell said. “People have golf carts, so they kind of drive around. Everybody in this community is very nice, but if they do stop and talk, everybody is very cautious of their spatial surroundings.”

Thus far, none of the Bells has been tempted to overdose on Netflix.

“Sometimes, we watch, but it’s honestly hard to stay inside the RV,” Mariah said. “My dad bought a VR (virtual reality gaming system) and I really enjoy watching my sister try to box, that’s really amazing for me.”

The RV has a bedroom, big enough for a king-sized bed, as well as a full kitchen, spacious living area and two bathrooms. Morgan sleeps on a pull-out couch, while Mariah has a cot. The lower portion of the vehicle is devoted to storage, with a laundry area and large freezer.

Most important, the kitchen table has a leaf, making it comfortable for all four Bells to sit down to family dinner.

“It’s been great in that respect for both Kendra and I,” said Andrew, who awakes at 2 or 3 a.m. to work remotely. “Usually, we only see the girls a couple of times a year, so to be able to spend time with them, work out with Mariah and Morgan, go paddle boarding – we can get out and do things we haven’t been able to do together in a long time.”

“Just the idea of sitting down together to have dinner, because we haven’t been together in so long, even something like that is different,” Mariah said. “Those moments are very special.”

Morgan’s career, too, was interrupted by coronavirus. For the past six years, she has portrayed the lead role of “Anna” in the Disney on Ice North American Frozen production. When the tour stopped in Ottawa, Ontario last month, cast members got word the remainder of the stops were cancelled.

“The show was scheduled to go to mid-May, so got sent home pretty early, but obviously we understood it was for the safety of everybody,” she said. “I was lucky enough to be able to come home and be able to spend time with my family and not be quarantined by myself.”

Morgan competed in three U.S. Championships before retiring from competition in 2013. She looks forward to resuming her Disney on Ice career as soon as possible after the coronavirus crisis ends.

“Skating is such a small thing, but at the same time it would be nice to get back to shows, because I feel shows offer a moment for families to step outside everything that is happening in the daily world, have fun and make a memory,” she said.

Amidst family time, staying fit and, perhaps, stargazing at Palm Springs’ famously beautiful night sky, Mariah is strategizing for the 2020-21 season. She’s sticking with the same choreographers: Adam Rippon for her short program, and Shae-Lynn Bourne for the free skate.

“We have in mind what I am going to use for my short, but we don’t have anything for the long yet,” she said. “With Adam, we figure it out further in advance. With Shae-Lynn, it’s (closer) to the time frame of doing the work, maybe a few days before. She is so great at understanding and relating to a skater and what they want.”

Great though it was, Bell is not tempted to use “Hallelujah” a free second season.

“The last time I performed that program at nationals is a great memory to have,” she said. “I could never foresee me doing any better than that.”

MORE: Takeaways from the abbreviated 2019-20 figure skating season

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Grigory Rodchenkov, Russian doping whistleblower, still lives in fear

Getty Images
Leave a comment

His head covered in a black balaclava, adjusting dark goggles obscuring his eyes, Grigory Rodchenkov grows anxious if any part of his face can be seen.

Exposing Russia’s state-sponsorship doping scheme forced Rodchenkov into hiding in the United States five years ago. Revealing his current identity is still too risky for the chemist turned whistleblower, even in a video interview from an undisclosed location.

“It’s my security measures because I have physical threats to be assassinated,” Rodchenkov told The Associated Press. “And I want to live.”

Evidence from Rodchenkov that has already turned Vladimir Putin‘s Russia into international sporting outcasts continues to be used in cases against athletes along with data from his former laboratory in Moscow.

“Putin, he is quite logical. He separates opposition in two ways — enemies … betrayers,” Rodchenkov said. “I am falling in the betrayers’ category and all betrayers should be beheaded, cut, dead. So there is no doubt that he wants me to be dead.”

It has not deterred him from documenting his life story in “The Rodchenkov Affair: How I Brought Down Putin’s Secret Doping Empire,” revisiting how he conspired with his country to corrupt sports and then tries to show contrition by turning star witness.

Rodchenkov was the brains behind the Duchess cocktail of anabolic steroids and cover-up that turned Russia into a medal machine at the home Olympics in Sochi in 2014, topping the standings with 13 gold medals before disqualifications.

Russian spies ensured the Duchess would not be detected in doping tests as FSB agents used a hole in the wall of the Sochi laboratory to swap out the dirty samples with clean urine at night.

“For me, it was the end of doping control,” Rodchenkov said. “If we can do it, why others cannot?”

The doping cover-up extended beyond the Winter Olympics, into the Summer Games, Paralympics, world track and field championships and every major sport.

Some Russians were barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as the International Olympic Committee remains opposed to blanket bans on countries.

So Russian athletes can still compete on the international stage if they can show they are clean, despite a four-year ban from major international sporting events being imposed on the nation last year for a fresh cover-up, including tampering with data gained from Rodchenkov’s former lab in Moscow.

“Sport is a part of Putin’s politics and showing to the West how good Russia is,” Rodchenkov said. “You cannot trust Russia. You cannot trust the certification authorities, and (anti-doping) laboratories cannot be allowed to be restored within the foreseeable future.”

Especially now, according to Rodchenkov, following constitutional changes allowing Putin to run for two more six-year terms, in 2024 and 2030,

“Until 2036,” Rodchenkov said, “no trust.”

But why now trust Rodchenkov as he presents a virtuous image at odds with his deep collusion with the state to cheat?

“When you are laboratory director and you have 50 employees and you are reporting to your high ups at the ministry, I could not even think about morals,” he said, dismissing concerns about any long-term damage to the health of athletes he allowed to be pumped with steroids.

“It’s extremely debatable and still ungrounded,” he said. “We see the generation who is now in the end of their lives of 70s and 80s, which are still … in a good physical condition after steroid programs.”

Go back four decades and Rodchenkov was starting out in a Soviet system learning how to manipulate doping controls.

“I had honestly, I’m sorry, but I had huge feelings of accomplishment,” he said. “Those athletes I helped to (win) were extremely talented and I could not understand, with the coach, how he or she may lose to others. The only explanation was doping. Then using some programs, we won gold medals. Honestly it was like leveling the field.

“Again, ‘morals’ is maybe vocabulary from American life but not from Soviet and Russian. In (the) Soviet (Union) it was the Soviet moral, in Russia there is no morals.”

It helps when the athletes are compliant.

“This is the huge problem of the militarization of Russia sport,” Rodchenkov said. “They follow orders, they are disciplined but they cannot tell the truth because they have given the oath to the Russian state and consider foreigners as potential enemies or even actual enemies. That’s why in Russia there are three ways – lying, cheating and denying.”

Rodchenkov has had to convince the world he has shed those ways and is coming clean. More of the cases he helped to cover-up could soon come to light after the World Anti-Doping Agency shared data – of samples tested up to 2015, and tampering that continued into 2019 – that was retrieved from the Moscow testing lab at the heart of the state-backed doping program.

“The problem is that the people from outside cannot understand what is going on inside sports,” he said. “Only whistleblowers could do that. But in corrupted countries you have to escape and we need to be preserved.”

For Rodchenkov that means living a life constantly in fear of being recognized as happened on a train in the US.

“It was a student,” he recalled. “I told him, `Forget you are meeting me, yes it’s me, don’t tell anyone.’ … I disappeared again.”

MORE: Russia track and field faces expulsion if it misses deadline

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Noah Lyles, more world champs race in Monaco; TV, live stream schedule

Noah Lyles
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Noah Lyles headlines a bevy of world champions slated for the first full-on Diamond League meet of the abbreviated track and field season, live on NBC Sports on Friday.

Monaco hosts the strongest fields of any meet since the world championships 10 months ago. Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBC Sports Gold air coverage on Friday at 2 p.m. ET.

Reigning world champions include Lyles (200m), Grant Holloway (110m hurdles), Donavan Brazier (800m) and Sam Kendricks (pole vault), and those are just the Americans.

Swede Mondo Duplantis, who twice raised the pole vault world record in February, takes on Kendricks in Monaco. Distance stars Sifan Hassan, Hellen Obiri, Beatrice Chepkoech, Timothy Cheruiyot and Joshua Cheptegei dot the fields, too.

The Diamond League season was due to start in April, but the coronavirus pandemic halted large-gathering track meets until now. Repurposed versions of Diamond League meets in Oslo and Zurich were held the last two months with fewer events and athletes and some entrants racing from different countries.

After Monaco, more Diamond League meets are scheduled for Stockholm (Aug. 23), Lausanne (Sept. 2), Brussels (Sept. 4), Naples (Sept. 17), Doha (Sept. 25) and China (Oct. 17).

Here are the Monaco entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

1:40 p.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
2:03 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
2:05 — Women’s High Jump
2:12 — Men’s 800m
2:17 — Women’s Triple Jump
2:19 — Women’s 5000m
2:42 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
2:50 — Women’s 100m
2:57 — Men’s 1500m
3:07 — Women’s 400m
3:13 — Men’s 5000m
3:32 — Men’s 200m
3:39 — Women’s 100m
3:47 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase

Here are five events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 1:40 p.m.
The top field event of the meet includes the reigning Olympic champion (Brazil’s Thiago Braz), reigning world champion (Kendricks) and the world-record holder (Duplantis, who must be the favorite here). Kendricks and Duplantis already went head-to-head this spring, competing virtually from respective home pole-vault setups. Kendricks took their first six head-to-heads, back when Duplantis was a teenager, but the Louisiana-born Swede won all four of their indoor duels in February. Duplantis is the clear Tokyo Olympic favorite until proven otherwise.

Men’s 800m — 2:12 p.m.
The top four from the 2019 World Championships are entered. Brazier, 23, caught fire the last year. He broke the American record to win the world title. He broke his own American indoor record in February. Then, last month, Brazier took 1.33 seconds off his 1500m personal best. Nobody in the Monaco field has beaten Brazier since the start of 2018.

Women’s 5000m — 2:19 p.m.
Ethiopian-born Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan in world champion at 1500m and 10,000m, but she’s lost four of five meetings with two-time world champion Hellen Obiri of Kenya at 5000m. Hassan appears to be gearing up to race the 5000m in Tokyo, though, saying last month her eye was on a 1500m-5000m Olympic double had the Games been held this year. The 1500m preliminary heats and the 5000m final are separated by about 12 hours at the Olympics next year. Also in this field: three-time Olympian and former American record holder Shannon Rowbury, set for her first Diamond League race in nearly three years and since the birth of daughter Sienna.

Men’s 1500m — 2:57 p.m.
Last we saw Kenyan Timothy Cheruiyot in a 1500m, he led wire-to-wire en route to a 2.12-second victory in the world championships final. Only one man has beaten Cheruiyot in three years, countryman Elijah Manangoi, who is provisionally suspended due to whereabouts failures. The Monaco field does include Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen (second-fastest man of 2019), Ethiopian Yomif Kejelcha (indoor mile world-record holder), Pole Marcin Lewandowski (world bronze medalist) and Craig Engels (2019 U.S. champion who was 10th at worlds).

Men’s 200m — 3:32 p.m.
Lyles and younger brother Josephus Lyles go head-to-head for the first time since January 2017. Noah has lost just one outdoor 200m since placing fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials coming out of high school. Josephus, primarily a 400m sprinter in his developmnt, last month took a half-second off a five-year-old 200m personal best. His new best time — 20.24 seconds — would have placed third at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships behind Noah (19.78) and Christian Coleman (20.02).

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s return from destruction, death to sprinting

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!