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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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, Results

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 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada vs. Puerto Rico Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China vs. France Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Belgium Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA vs. Canada Semifinals
5:30 a.m. Australia vs. China Semifinals
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final

U.S. into FIBA World Cup semifinals after trailing, triple-double watch

FIBA Women's World Cup
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SYDNEY — Alyssa Thomas and her United States teammates were tested for the first time in the World Cup by a physical Serbia team.

After a slow start, the Americans used a dominant run spanning the half to take control of the game and reach the semifinals again.

Thomas had 13 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists to help the U.S. beat Serbia 88-55 in the quarterfinals of the women’s World Cup on Thursday.

“I think you expect every team’s best punch in the first quarter,” Thomas said. “We just had to settle into the game and once we settled in, then we were really able to break away.”

Kelsey Plum scored 17 points and A’ja Wilson added 15 to lead the Americans (6-0) into the semifinals.

“They played super physical, more physical than we’ve seen the entire tournament,” Plum said. “Credit to them. I felt that early-on their pressure bothered us a little bit, but we were able to kind of get under control.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

The Americans had run through pool play, winning by 46.2 points per game and hadn’t faced any kind of challenge. Serbia (3-2) wasn’t afraid though, going right at the U.S. The Serbians scored the first basket of the game — marking the first time the Americans trailed in the tournament.

It was back-and-forth for the first 17 minutes, with the U.S. failing to go on any major run. Then, with 2:59 left in the half and the U.S. up by five, Kahleah Copper drove to the basket and was fouled. She landed hard on her hip and had to be helped off the court by the U.S. training staff. Copper, who has been a sparkplug for the U.S. in her first tournament, didn’t return.

“It’s too early to tell,” Reeve said of the extent of Copper’s injury. “We’re getting her some imaging and we’ll have information later.”

Plum replaced Cooper and hit the two free throws, starting a 12-0 run to close the half as the Americans led 50-33 at the break. Thomas had 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals in the opening 20 minutes.

The U.S. extended its run to 20 straight points in the third quarter before Serbia finally ended a nearly 8 1/2 minutes drought with a 3-pointer by Yvonne Anderson. That cut the deficit to 22 points. Serbia didn’t get much closer after that.

Anderson led Serbia with 14 points.

Betnijah Laney went down hard early in the fourth quarter on a put-back. She left the game and sat on the bench for the rest of the game.

“She took a hard fall,” Reeve said. “She was in the locker room afterwards and I think in her case it was a little more of it took the wind out of her.”

The victory was the 28th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86.

After going unbeaten in pool play again, the U.S. reached at least the semifinals for the 12th consecutive tournament, dating to 1975. That year completed a cycle in which the Americans lost 14 games combined in four tournaments. They’ve only lost five games since.

PICASSO IT WAS NOT

The U.S. had dominated the paint even without Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 60.8-24.4 in pool play. Serbia held a 20-16 advantage at the half and ended up outscoring the Americans 28-26 in the game by constantly having two or three players inside to clog up the middle.

“It’s one of those things you got to live with,” Wilson said. “Hopefully these next couple of games we can get back to owning the paint. Serbia did a great job of locking it down.

TRIPLE-DOUBLE WATCH

Thomas, who had a triple-double in each of the last two games in the WNBA Finals, fell just short again of getting the first one at the World Cup since Erika Dobrovicova in 1994 for the Slovak Republic against Spain. Assists and rebounds weren’t kept before 1994. Thomas had 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the opener against Belgium.

TIP-INS

Jewell Loyd returned to the U.S. starting lineup a game after resting according to the team. She had eight points.

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