In Survivor: Nashville, a first national title for Mariah Bell

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It was something of a war of attrition, the women’s singles event at these 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Nashville, with Covid or physical issues eliminating one contender after another.

So it was no surprise that the survivor, Mariah Bell, was a skater who had doggedly stuck it out, season after season, before battling through the free skate Friday to win a first national title in her ninth try.

At 25, Bell also became the oldest U.S. women’s champion in the 95 years since Beatrix Loughran won at 26 in 1927.

And, most importantly, no matter that the decision won’t be announced publicly until Saturday afternoon, Bell also claimed a spot on the U.S. team headed to the 2022 Winter Olympics next month in Beijing. The other two places will almost certainly go to Karen Chen, who finished second, and Alysa Liu, forced out of the free skate after testing positive for Covid earlier Friday.

Isabeau Levito, at 14, below the age minimum for the upcoming Olympics, staked out a path toward the 2026 Winter Games by finishing second in the free skate and third overall in her senior national debut.

“My goal was to win a medal, and here I am,” Levito said.

Levito had the highest technical score on a night when all of the top seven skaters had at least one negative grade of execution.

Wars of attrition usually aren’t pretty.

“It wasn’t a perfect skate,” Bell said. “I was fighting through it.”

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Bell finished with 216.25 points, the lowest winning score at nationals since Chen won in 2017 with 214.22. Chen, excited about completing her nationals medal collection by adding a silver to her gold and two bronzes, had 213.85 this time, while Levito scored 210.75.

When the free skate began Friday night, the field was missing the two skaters who had combined to win the past four national titles.

Bradie Tennell, the 2018 and 2021 champion, withdrew last week because of lingering problems from a foot injury.

Liu, 16, the 2019 and 2020 champion, withdrew after having finished third in Thursday’s short program.

And Amber Glenn, last year’s runner-up, also withdrew after a positive Covid test.

“The (Covid) news was definitely very shocking and super unfortunate to hear,” said Chen, a 2018 Olympian. “I gave myself 10 minutes to full-out freak about it and then said to myself, `You’ve got to focus on your skating.’”

Liu’s positive came in a routine test mandated by U.S. Figure Skating for those who had been in Nashville more than three days. Her self-description suggests she was asymptomatic.

“I’m feeling good physically and mentally,” Liu wrote on Instagram.

Liu has petitioned for a place on the Olympic team, and she seems a lock to get it under U.S. Figure Skating’s selection procedures. The decision was to be made soon after the free skate and announced during NBC’s coverage of the men’s short program Saturday afternoon.

Glenn said on Instagram Friday that despite taking precautions against catching the virus she had begun to feel “slower, weak and sluggish” over the previous 48 hours. That time period included a very ragged performance in the short program, where her 14th place had effectively ended her chances of earning an Olympic spot.

After initially thinking her malaise came from usual competition nerves, Glenn tested positive after the Friday morning warmup and withdrew.

“To know I was competing while sick with Covid is awful,” she wrote. “It scares me to know who might’ve been exposed.”

The surprise star of the short program, Gracie Gold, unsurprisingly struggled in the free skate, where she doubled three planned triple jumps and dropped from sixth to 10th overall.

Bell won both the short and the free after eight years of never winning either despite having had three previous podium finishes. In her Olympic debut, she will be the oldest U.S. Olympic female singles skater since 1928, when Loughran, then 27, and Theresa Weld-Blanchard, 34, were on the team.

“I’m excited that I could keep fighting for the ultimate goal that now I’ve reached,” Bell said. “I want it to be a known fact that skating doesn’t end at a certain age.”

Bell came back from a disappointing performance at the 2021 nationals, when she tumbled to fifth after having won the silver medal a year earlier. She took some time off before resolving to throw everything into this season.

“To go from nationals last year to this, I’m very proud,” Bell said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

Ilia Malinin
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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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