Mariah Bell is oldest U.S. women’s figure skating champ in 95 years, Olympics bound

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Mariah Bell is the oldest U.S. women’s figure skating champion since 1927. Next month, she should become the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928.

Bell, 25, captured her first national title in her ninth appearance, winning the last competition before the three-woman Olympic team is announced Saturday.

Bell, a previous U.S. silver and bronze medalist, had the top short program and free skate, tallying 216.25 points in Nashville. She’s almost certainly going to her first Olympics, and should be joined by Karen Chen, a 2018 Olympian who finished second, 2.4 behind.

“I’m going to cry,” Bell said on NBC as her eyes watered. “It’s something I’ve been working for a really long time.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast ScheduleFull Results

The third spot may go to two-time national champion Alysa Liu, the top American in the world rankings.

Liu tested positive for the coronavirus and withdrew earlier Friday after a third-place short program Thursday. Liu was set to petition for a spot on the team, to be decided later Friday night by a selection committee looking at a year’s worth of results.

Isabeau Levito took bronze in her senior nationals debut. At 14, she’s too young for the Olympics. Gracie Gold, a 2014 Olympian on the comeback who was a surprisingly high sixth in the short, finished 10th overall.

Whoever the selection committee chooses, they go into the Olympics looking up at a three-woman Russian team that’s currently favored to sweep the medals.

Bell persevered.

She finished second in the 2012 U.S. Junior Championships at age 15, then had a best finish of sixth in three senior nationals appearance before changing coaches and moving from Colorado to California.

Bell blossomed under coach Rafael Arutunian and with training partners including Nathan ChenAdam Rippon and Ashley Wagner. Her breakthrough was a runner-up at 2016 Skate America, two months after the coaching change.

“I’m starting to realize my own potential,” she said that day. “I’m very excited for the future.”

Bell entered the 2018 U.S. Championships ranked third among Americans hoping for a spot on the three-woman PyeongChang Olympic team. But she finished fifth at those nationals and was second alternate for those Winter Games.

At that age, most skaters who miss an Olympics hang up their skates. Bell endured and added the retired Rippon to her coaching team (similar to Bell, Rippon made his first Olympics in his ninth senior nationals).

“I just absolutely love skating,” Bell said Friday when asked about sticking it out. “I’ve been through a lot with it. I just had so much support.”

Bell’s best finish in three world championships was ninth at her last appearance in 2019. She has since put out the best performances of her career. She earned silver at 2020 Nationals, with a stirring free skate, and gold at 2020 Skate America (normally an international event, but limited to almost all Americans due to the pandemic).

Bell ranks eighth in the world this season among skaters expected in the Olympic field.

“I hate it but I love it when people talk about age,” Bell said last season. “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.”

Chen, 22, is set to become the first U.S. women’s singles skater to compete in back-to-back Olympics since Sasha Cohen in 2002 and 2006.

Chen, after finishing 11th in PyeongChang, considered retiring while taking the next season off due to injury. She returned, balancing training and competition with Cornell classes until the pandemic. Now she’s focused on skating but plans to return to school later this year.

Chen’s cap feather: a pair of fourth-place finishes at world championships (2017 and 2021).

Bell and Chen entered nationals ranked second and third among senior U.S. women this season. Liu was ranked first — and fifth in the world when excluding extra Russians who won’t be at the Olympics — a big reason why her petition could be successful.

Liu, who in 2019 became the youngest U.S. senior champion in history at age 13, has landed triple Axels and quadruple jumps, but none cleanly in the last two seasons.

Amber Glenn, the No. 4 U.S. woman this fall, withdrew after a positive coronavirus test the morning after a rough 14th-place short program. Glenn said she competed while ill.

Also Friday, Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance. More on that competition here.

Nationals continue Saturday with the men’s short program, pairs’ free skate and free dance.

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U.S. women win record 27th consecutive FIBA World Cup game

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SYDNEY — There’s been a long legacy of success for the U.S. women’s basketball team at the World Cup.

The names change over time, but the results don’t seem to.

Kelsey Plum scored 20 points, Chelsea Gray added 16 and the United States routed Bosnia and Herzegovina 121-59 on Tuesday to break the team record for consecutive wins at the World Cup.

The victory was the 27th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The U.S. won 26 in a row from 1994-2006 leading up to that game. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

“It’s kind of amazing,” said Breanna Stewart, who has been part of the last three World Cup teams. “Obviously, been here for some of it, but you understand the legends before that who really kind of started the streak. It goes to show that no matter who is playing on USA Basketball, we’re always trying to chase excellence.

“This streak doesn’t mean much right now because we’re going into the quarterfinals and focusing on winning a gold medal, but it’s something to kind of hang your hat on later.”

What started with Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Sylvia Fowles has now been passed on to Stewart and A’ja Wilson. A legacy of excellence that doesn’t appear it will end anytime soon.

“The players change and, you know, there was a lot of concern about who’s next,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said. “It was a concern when Dawn Staley and Lisa Leslie were playing and who was going to be next. Then it was Sue and (Taurasi) and then other great players, too. Now with this group they are saying, hey, we’re pretty good, too.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The U.S. last lost a group play game in 1975, according to Bill Mallon of Olympedia.org.

“We know the responsibility when you put on this jersey. There’s a lot more than yourself,” Plum said. “Everyone puts pride to the side. We have a common goal. We have some amazing players on this team.”

The Americans (5-0) won their pool games by an average of 46.2 points and never trailed in any of them. Now they play Serbia in the quarterfinals.

The U.S. was coming off a record rout of South Korea in which the team broke the World Cup record for points with 145. While the Americans didn’t match that number, they put the game out of reach in the first 10 minutes, going up 33-15.

The lead ballooned to 63-31 at halftime. Bosnia and Herzegovina put together a small run to start the third quarter, but the U.S. scored the final 19 points of the period.

Once again they used a dominant inside performance, outscoring Bosnia and Herzegovina 84-28 in the paint led by Wilson, Stewart and Brionna Jones.

“It’s a huge part of our identity,” Reeve said. “Ninety-whatever we had yesterday and 84 today, we just know what we’re good at and we have players that are really understanding their opportunities for that.”

The U.S. was missing Jewell Loyd, whom the team said was resting. Kahleah Copper started in her place and finished with 11 points.

Nikolina Elez scored 19 points to lead the Bosniaks (0-5), who were playing in their first World Cup.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA vs. Serbia
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada vs. Puerto Rico
4 a.m. China vs. France
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Belgium
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final