With personal best in worlds short, Mariah Bell aging like a fine wine


In women’s singles skating, where youth has been served over the last 30 years, it is easy to think of a 25-year-old as a woman of a certain age.

So it was a big talking point in January when, at 25, Mariah Bell became the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 95 years and again in February when she became the oldest U.S. woman to compete in Olympic singles in 94 years, finishing 10th.

Now here we are in late March, less than a month before Bell’s 26 birthday, and she is doing the fine wine thing, getting better as time passes.

Call it aging gracefully, which describes Bell’s fluid, elegant skating in Wednesday’s short program at the World Figure Skating Championships in Montpellier, France.

In opening the final competition of a long season – perhaps the final competition of her lengthy career? – Bell had her highest short program score ever and her highest finish ever, third place, in any program at a global championship.

“I absolutely think I’m getting better,” Bell said. “As long as you want to and are dedicated, you can continue to improve.”

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

It took 10 tries at the U.S. Championships for Bell to win any program, let alone the title. It took seven seasons of skating internationally for her to make the Olympics. It took three seasons for her to get a new short program personal best.

This score, 72.55, was more than a point better than her 71.26 from 2019 worlds. She improved the score despite one mistake, the second jump of her triple-triple combination being judged one-quarter turn short.

Going into Friday’s free skate, Bell trails reigning Olympic bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto of Japan, whose 80.32 also was a personal best, and Loena Hendrickx of Belgium, who had 75.00 despite skating with her right thigh strapped after a recent groin injury.

Young You of South Korea was fourth (72.08), just ahead of Alysa Liu (71.91). Karen Chen stumbled into eighth, undone again by a big mistake on a triple loop jump, as she had been by that jump all six times she attempted it at the Olympics, where she was 16th.

Chen thought of replacing the loop with a triple flip but has had improper edge issues with the flip. So she changed the pattern and the entry to the loop, but that made no difference Wednesday, as she turned it into a single loop.

Bell is the first U.S. woman to make the top three in the short program at worlds or the Olympics since Gracie Gold won the short at the 2016 worlds.

“It’s a huge honor for me to be in the top three,” Bell said.

Without doubt, Bell’s placement owed in part to the absence of Russian skaters, barred from international skating events for at least the rest of this season as a sanction for their country’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Russian women swept the singles podium at last season’s worlds, won five of the previous six world titles and the top two medals at the last two Olympics.

“Obviously, it’s strange not having them at an event, but I’ve never thought about that,” Bell said. “I’ve always thought about my own skating. For my personal experience, it feels no different.”

“I’m sure all of us kind of feel it is weird they are not here,” Chen said.

Also absent: Bell’s coaches, Rafael Arutunian and Adam Rippon. She said Arutunian was worn out after guiding Nathan Chen to the 2022 Olympic gold medal, and Rippon had commitments that kept him from traveling.

Rippon did attend virtually, as Bell revealed by holding up her cell phone so a camera could see him on FaceTime. She talked with Rippon before her final warmup, again before she skated and again after she got the scores.

“He did the same stuff he would usually do,” Bell said of Rippon’s counsel. “It was just nice to have him to talk to, because I’m so used to talking to him at competitions.”

Missing, of course, was seeing Rippon swept away physically by his excitement while standing at the boards when Bell skates.

“I could still feel his energy through the phone,” Bell said.

Liu’s clean skate brought her best international score since early in the season. When she finished, tears filled her eyes.

“Very happy and relieved,” said Liu, whose seventh at the 2022 Olympics led the U.S. women. “They were happy tears, I think. I don’t know if I looked sad. Maybe I did.”

Liu, 16, has had an Olympic season fraught with more than the usual stress.

A positive Covid test forced her to withdraw from the U.S. Championships after the short program. Last week, as Liu prepared for her senior worlds debut, the U.S. Justice Department charged five men accused of acting on behalf of the Chinese government by stalking and harassing Chinese dissidents in the U.S., including Liu’s father, Arthur. The charges said both Arthur and Alysa were targets of a spying operation.

“It wasn’t too distressing for my skating,” she said of the news about the harassment. “It bothered me a little bit, obviously, because I was worried about the safety of everybody in my family. It is what it is.”

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Faith Kipyegon breaks second world record in eight days; three WRs fall in Paris


Kenyan Faith Kipyegon broke her second world record in as many Fridays as three world records fell at a Diamond League meet in Paris.

Kipyegon, a 29-year-old mom, followed her 1500m record from last week by running the fastest 5000m in history.

She clocked 14 minutes, 5.20 seconds, pulling away from now former world record holder Letesenbet Gidey of Ethiopia, who ran 14:07.94 for the third-fastest time in history. Gidey’s world record was 14:06.62.

“When I saw that it was a world record, I was so surprised,” Kipyegon said, according to meet organizers. “The world record was not my plan. I just ran after Gidey.”

Kipyegon, a two-time Olympic 1500m champion, ran her first 5000m in eight years. In the 1500m, her primary event, she broke an eight-year-old world record at the last Diamond League meet in Italy last Friday.

Kipyegon said she will have to talk with her team to decide if she will add the 5000m to her slate for August’s world championships in Budapest.

Next year in the 1500m, she can bid to become the second person to win the same individual Olympic track and field event three times (joining Usain Bolt). After that, she has said she may move up to the 5000m full-time en route to the marathon.

Kipyegon is the first woman to break world records in both the 1500m and the 5000m since Italian Paola Pigni, who reset them in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m over a nine-month stretch in 1969 and 1970.

Full Paris meet results are here. The Diamond League moves to Oslo next Thursday, live on Peacock.

Also Friday, Ethiopian Lamecha Girma broke the men’s 3000m steeplechase world record by 1.52 seconds, running 7:52.11. Qatar’s Saif Saaeed Shaheen set the previous record in 2004. Girma is the Olympic and world silver medalist.

Olympic 1500m champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway ran the fastest two-mile race in history, clocking 7:54.10. Kenyan Daniel Komen previously had the fastest time of 7:58.61 from 1997 in an event that’s not on the Olympic program and is rarely contested at top meets. Ingebrigtsen, 22, is sixth-fastest in history in the mile and eighth-fastest in the 1500m.

Olympic and world silver medalist Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic won the 400m in 49.12 seconds, chasing down Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who ran her first serious flat 400m in four years. McLaughlin-Levrone clocked a personal best 49.71 seconds, a time that would have earned bronze at last year’s world championships.

“I’m really happy with the season opener, PR, obviously things to clean up,” said McLaughlin-Levrone, who went out faster than world record pace through 150 meters. “My coach wanted me to take it out and see how I felt. I can’t complain with that first 200m.”

And the end of the race?

“Not enough racing,” she said. “Obviously, after a few races, you kind of get the feel for that lactic acid. So, first race, I knew it was to be expected.”

McLaughlin-Levrone is expected to race the flat 400m at July’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, where the top three are in line to make the world team in the individual 400m. She also has a bye into August’s worlds in the 400m hurdles and is expected to announce after USATF Outdoors which race she will contest at worlds.

Noah Lyles, the world 200m champion, won the 100m in 9.97 seconds into a headwind. Olympic champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy was seventh in 10.21 in his first 100m since August after struggling through health issues since the Tokyo Games.

Lyles wants to race both the 100m and the 200m at August’s worlds. He has a bye into the 200m. The top three at USATF Outdoors join reigning world champion Fred Kerley on the world championships team. Lyles is the fifth-fastest American in the 100m this year, not counting Kerley, who is undefeated in three meets at 100m in 2023.

Olympic and world silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson won the 800m in 1:55.77, a British record. American Athing Mu, the Olympic and world champion with a personal best of 1:55.04, is expected to make her season debut later this month.

World champion Grant Holloway won the 110m hurdles in 12.98 seconds, becoming the first man to break 13 seconds this year. Holloway has the world’s four best times in 2023.

American Valarie Allman won the discus over Czech Sandra Perkovic in a meeting of the last two Olympic champions. Allman threw 69.04 meters and has the world’s 12 best throws this year.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Iga Swiatek sweeps into French Open final, where she faces a surprise


Iga Swiatek marched into the French Open final without dropping a set in six matches. All that stands between her and a third Roland Garros title is an unseeded foe.

Swiatek plays 43rd-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova in the women’s singles final, live Saturday at 9 a.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com/live, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

Swiatek, the top-ranked Pole, swept 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-2, 7-6 (7) in Thursday’s semifinal in her toughest test all tournament. Haddad Maia squandered three break points at 4-all in the second set.

Swiatek dropped just 23 games thus far, matching her total en route to her first French Open final in 2020 (which she won for her first WTA Tour title of any kind). After her semifinal, she signed a courtside camera with the hashtag #stepbystep.

“For sure I feel like I’m a better player,” than in 2020, she said. “Mentally, tactically, physically, just having the experience, everything. So, yeah, my whole life basically.”

Swiatek can become the third woman since 2000 to win three French Opens after Serena Williams and Justine Henin and, at 22, the youngest woman to win four total majors since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Muchova upset No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to reach her first major final.

Muchova, a 26-year-old into the second week of the French Open for the first time, became the first player to take a set off the powerful Belarusian all tournament, then rallied from down 5-2 in the third set to prevail 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5.

Sabalenka, who overcame previous erratic serving to win the Australian Open in January, had back-to-back double faults in her last service game.

“Lost my rhythm,” she said. “I wasn’t there.”

Muchova broke up what many expected would be a Sabalenka-Swiatek final, which would have been the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 match at the French Open since Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the 2013 final.

Muchova is unseeded, but was considered dangerous going into the tournament.

In 2021, she beat then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make the Australian Open semifinals, then reached a career-high ranking of 19. She dropped out of the top 200 last year while struggling through injuries.

“Some doctors told me maybe you’ll not do sport anymore,” Muchova said. “It’s up and downs in life all the time. Now I’m enjoying that I’m on the upper part now.”

Muchova has won all five of her matches against players ranked in the top three. She also beat Swiatek in their lone head-to-head, but that was back in 2019 when both players were unaccomplished young pros. They have since practiced together many times.

“I really like her game, honestly,” Swiatek said. “I really respect her, and she’s I feel like a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches, and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!