The two oldest skaters produced the most memorable performances of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships women’s short program.
Mariah Bell, a 25-year-old bidding to be the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater in 94 years and the oldest national champion in 95 years, tallied a leading 75.55 points with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination.
“I had chills,” Bell, eyeing her first title in her ninth senior nationals, said on USA Network. “I have this part of me that’s just, like, so gritty. When I really need to do something, I can tap into it.”
Bell is followed in the standings by the other pre-event favorites: Karen Chen (74.55) and Alysa Liu (71.42 with a triple Axel fall). They will make up the three-woman Olympic team barring something seismic in Friday’s free skate.
Gracie Gold, 26, is in a surprisingly high sixth place going into the free skate. Though the Olympics are a long shot, it marked the 2014 Olympian’s best program in five years and since overcoming anxiety, depression and an eating disorder.
“It was just this huge emotional moment on so many different levels,” Gold said of her skate in Nashville. “The crowd was just phenomenal. I always feel like the crowd at nationals makes it special.”
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Gold trails the three Olympic favorites, plus 14-year-old Isabeau Levito, who is too young for this year’s Olympics, and Lindsay Thorngren, a 15-year-old who makes the Olympic age cutoff.
Gold is 7.94 behind Bell and 3.81 behind third-place Liu. But nationals are not an Olympic Trials.
Rather, a committee picks the three-woman team after Friday’s free skate, taking into account the last year’s worth of results starting with last January’s nationals. That will hurt the case of Gold, who was 13th last year and 13th again in her lone international competition this season.
Gold said making it back to the Olympics has been one of her goals.
“It is, in theory, completely attainable,” she said, expressing satisfaction with her short. “Copy and paste for tomorrow.”
After a spectacular short program performance, @GraceEGold receives a standing ovation from the crowd in Nashville. 🥰@USFigureSkating | #ToyotaUSChamps22 pic.twitter.com/wfMHxzsUr4
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) January 7, 2022
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Gold said she will evaluate after the season whether she will continue competing.
“My mom always said I had a case of the mores,” she said. “I just wanted one more of everything.
“Have we ever sent anyone to the Olympics for singles that was 30?”
Yes. Theresa Weld-Blanchard in 1924, then again in 1928 when she was 34, according to Olympedia.org.
Bell, who counts former training partner Adam Rippon as a coach and choreographer, has room for error in Friday’s free skate to still become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since Weld-Blanchard and Beatrix Loughran in 1928.
In her short, she landed a positively graded triple-triple jump combination for the first time this season.
Bell was a contender for the 2018 Olympic team before finishing fifth at those nationals. She pressed on at an age when many skaters who miss an Olympics would have retired.
Bell took silver at 2020 Nationals but was fifth last year and fifth in this season’s domestic rankings before an improved performance at her last pre-nationals event in November upped her to the second seed this week.
Chen is in good shape to become the first American women’s singles skater to make back-to-back Olympics since Sasha Cohen in 2002 and 2006. Chen, who didn’t compete in the 2018-19 season due to injury (and considered retirement), changed her short program before nationals.
Liu entered nationals as the favorite, even before the withdrawal of reigning champ Bradie Tennell and despite changing coaches and moving from California to Colorado since her most recent competition in November.
She was the top-performing American during the fall Grand Prix Series, ranking fifth in the world when taking out the extra Russians who won’t be at the Olympics.
Liu, the first American woman to land a quadruple jump in competition, hasn’t attempted one since the March 2020 World Junior Championships. She has tried six triple Axels this season, and five have been downgraded or under-rotated (including her attempt on Thursday).
But Liu, who in 2019 became the youngest senior U.S. champion at age 13, can still win a third U.S. title without them.
Amber Glenn, the 2021 U.S. silver medalist, struggled with her jumps and ended up 14th on Thursday. Glenn ranks fourth among U.S. senior women this season, but the deficit may be too much to overcome in the free skate to be seriously considered by the selection committee.
Earlier, Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc topped the pairs’ short program. More on that event here.
It’s possible that only one Olympic pairs’ spot is up for grabs after reigning national champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier withdrew Wednesday due to Frazier contracting COVID with severe symptoms. Knierim and Frazier are petitioning for one of two Olympic pairs’ spots.
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