Mariah Bell wins Skate America, a next step to defying Olympic history

Mariah Bell
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Mariah Bell took an unconventional career route to winning a unique Skate America. It may be the latest in a series of stepping stones to an extraordinary Olympic appearance.

Bell, 24, prevailed in an empty Orleans Arena in Las Vegas — save some judges, officials and cardboard cutouts — to prevail by a slim 1.66 points over 2018 U.S. champion and PyeongChang Olympian Bradie Tennell.

Bell held on despite falling on her last jump, a triple Lutz, and not having a triple-triple combination in her free skate. Her other jumps were of such high quality, and her artistic component scores so strong, that she didn’t lose all of her 3.19-point lead from Friday’s short program.

“Wasn’t my best skate today,” Bell said. “It was a little shaky, and I felt a little bit stiff.”

Audrey Shin, the 16-year-old, 2019 U.S. junior silver medalist who failed to qualify for last season’s senior nationals, held onto third place by landing seven triples in her free.

Later Saturday, Nathan Chen won the men’s event (more on that here), Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Brandon Frazier took the pairs’ title and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue three-peated in ice dance.

SKATE AMERICA: Full Results | Grand Prix Fields

Bell, yet to make an Olympic team, won a top-level competition for the first time in a career that is up to seven senior seasons.

“I try not to look too much at outcomes, more how I feel,” she said after an ABBA medley free skate that intentionally takes her out of her comfort zone. “I’m walking away from this performance a little disappointed, but I look back at nationals [in January], and that was a program I was really proud of.”

She was due, arguably entering as the favorite after taking silver at nationals with a captivating “Halleljuah” free skate (referenced in that quote). (Two-time reigning U.S. champion Alysa Liu, at 15, isn’t old enough for senior international events like Skate America until next season.)

Skate America usually includes top skaters from around the world. This year, due to coronavirus pandemic travel concerns, it’s mostly American skaters and closer to a national championships preview.

Liu, Bell, Tennell, Shin and 2018 Olympian Karen Chen are the key players for the 2022 U.S. Olympic team, which will be two or three spots, depending on results at the world championships in March.

Bell broke out with a silver medal at Skate America in 2016, made the 2017 Worlds team (finished 12th) and was second alternate for the 2018 Olympics after placing fifth at those nationals.

If Bell, the oldest of that group of five contenders, does qualify for the Beijing Winter Games, she will become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928, according to Olympedia.org.

“I hate it but I love it when people talk about age,” Bell, who trains under Rafael Arutunian, the same coach as Nathan Chen, and has former training partner Adam Rippon as a part-time coach, said before Skate America. “I would never use my age as any kind of an excuse. There’s no reason why me being 24 would make anything harder. I should be more in tune with my body and have a better understanding.”

Before she can think of the Olympics, another challenge: trying to supplant Liu, the only U.S. woman with a quad or a triple Axel (she has both), as national champion in January. Bell can become the oldest U.S. women’s champion post-World War II.

Tennell, the top U.S. woman internationally the last three seasons, had the highest-scoring free skate. That came after minor injuries prevented her from doing combination jumps until nine days before the competition.

“I had a lot of things thrown at me the last month and a half,” said Tennell, who changed coaches from Denise Myers to Tom Zakrajsek in the offseason, moving from her native Chicagoland to Colorado Springs. “To be able to come out here and compete like that for the first time in eight months, I feel really great. There’s a lot of room to grow.”

If this had been a normal year, Shin would have competed on the (now canceled) Junior Grand Prix rather than at Skate America.

She took advantage of the situation, despite a difficult previous season — May 2019 surgery to remove a cyst from her right ankle that kept her off the ice for about a month, followed by boot and blade issues that contributed to her not qualifying for last January’s nationals.

Shin is working on a quadruple toe loop and a triple Axel with coach Tammy Gambill in Colorado.

“[Gambill] told me, Skate America is a chance for you to show how much more consistent you are now,” Shin said. “After Skate America, you want to get that world team spot and you want to get that Olympic spot.”

Gracie Gold, a two-time U.S. champion who was fourth at the 2014 Olympics and is on the comeback trail, finished 12th of 12 skaters in both programs at Skate America. Gold left figure skating before the 2018 Olympic season to receive treatment for an eating disorder, depression and anxiety.

In Vegas, she struggled technically, landing one fully rotated triple jump. Gold was “terrified” to skate Friday after a difficult last two months that included a leg injury and blade and boot problems.

“I just cried most of the day yesterday because of how scared I was to compete,” she said after Saturday’s free skate. “We’re going back to the drawing board, I don’t know, I guess to salvage what we can in the wreckage, but we’re a little worse off than I thought.”

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U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

Asher Hong
Allison and John Cheng/USA Gymnastics
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Asher Hong, Colt Walker and world pommel horse champion Stephen Nedoroscik were named to the last three spots on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Brody Malone and Donnell Whittenburg earned the first spots on the team by placing first and second in the all-around at August’s U.S. Championships.

Hong, Walker and Nedoroscik were chosen by a committee after two days of selection camp competition in Colorado Springs this week. Malone and Whittenburg did not compete at the camp.

Hong, 18, will become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009. He nearly earned a spot on the team at the U.S. Championships, but erred on his 12th and final routine of that meet to drop from second to third in the all-around. At this week’s camp, Hong had the lowest all-around total of the four men competing on all six apparatuses, but selectors still chose him over Tokyo Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus.

Walker, a Stanford junior, will make his world championships debut. He would have placed second at nationals in August if a bonus system for attempting difficult skills wasn’t in place. With that bonus system not in place at the selection camp, he had the highest all-around total. The bonus system is not used at international meets such as world championships.

Nedoroscik rebounded from missing the Tokyo Olympic team to become the first American to win a world title on pommel horse last fall. Though he is the lone active U.S. male gymnast with a global gold medal, he was in danger of missing this five-man team because of struggles on the horse at the U.S. Championships. Nedoroscik, who does not compete on the other five apparatuses, put up his best horse routine of the season on the last day of the selection camp Wednesday.

Moldauer, who tweeted that he was sick all last week, was named the traveling alternate for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. It would be the first time that Moldauer, who was fourth in the all-around at last fall’s worlds, does not compete at worlds since 2015.

Though the U.S. has not made the team podium at an Olympics or worlds since 2014, it is boosted this year by the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

The U.S. women’s world team of five will be announced after a selection camp in two weeks. Tokyo Olympians Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles are in contention.

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Paris 2024 Olympic marathon route unveiled

Paris 2024 Olympic Marathon
Paris 2024
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The 2024 Olympic marathon route will take runners from Paris to Versailles and back.

The route announcement was made on the 233rd anniversary of one of the early, significant events of the French Revolution: the Women’s March on Versailles — “to pay tribute to the thousands of women who started their march at city hall to Versailles to take up their grievances to the king and ask for bread,” Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet said.

Last December, organizers announced the marathons will start at Hôtel de Ville (city hall, opposite Notre-Dame off the Seine River) and end at Les Invalides, a complex of museums and monuments one mile southeast of the Eiffel Tower.

On Wednesday, the rest of the route was unveiled — traversing the banks of the Seine west to the Palace of Versailles and then back east, passing the Eiffel Tower before the finish.

The men’s and women’s marathons will be on the last two days of the Games at 8 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET). It will be the first time that the women’s marathon is held on the last day of the Games after the men’s marathon traditionally occupied that slot.

A mass public marathon will also be held on the Olympic marathon route. The date has not been announced.

The full list of highlights among the marathon course:

• Hôtel de ville de Paris (start)
• Bourse de commerce
• Palais Brongniart
• Opéra Garnier
• Place Vendôme
• Jardin des Tuileries
• The Louvre
• Place de la Concorde
• The bridges of Paris
(Pont de l’Alma; Alexandre III;
Iéna; and more)
• Grand Palais
• Palais de Tokyo
• Jardins du Trocadéro
• Maison de la Radio
• Manufacture et Musées
nationaux de Sèvres
• Forêt domaniale
des Fausses-Reposes
• Monuments Pershing –
Lafayette
• Château de Versailles
• Forêt domaniale de Meudon
• Parc André Citroën
• Eiffel Tower
• Musée Rodin
• Esplanade des Invalides (finish)

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