by Liz Leamy
Mariah Bell Rings in New Year with First in Women's Short Program
Mariah Bell, the 2020 U.S. silver medalist and two-time U.S. bronze medalist, knocked the ball out of the park to bring in a first-place finish in the 2022 U.S. Championship ladies short program showdown, held at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Skating in front of a Covid-depressed crowd, Bell took the ice like with command, flying around at super-charged speeds and attacking all of her triple jumps with the vigor, gusto and expertise of a top world competitor, efforts for which she was rewarded accordingly with a 75.55 to put her at the top of the 16-member field of top-seeded American senior ladies.
Wearing a navy sleeveless dress and a ballerina-inspired hair bun, Bell, who works with Raphael Arytyunyan and Adam Rippon in Lakewood, California, captivated onlookers with her program to Yiruma’s ‘River Flows in You.’
At the same time, she did artful and high-velocity spins that were speedy in rotation and beautifully positioned as well as edgy, interesting footwork, for which she was awarded high grade of execution marks in tandem with her jumps.
Bell also earned big applause for her show stopping connecting steps and artistic elements, including her signature spiral, in which she did from a right forward outside edge into a right forward inside edge into a right forward inside counter before launching into a soaring double Axel that covered nearly 20 feet in length.
For Bell, it was all about taking care of the task at hand.
“Today felt really awesome,” said Bell. “I had a really good time.”
Bell’s standing at this event also marks the first time she has ever stood first in the short in the senior ladies skate off at the U.S. Championships, something she was excited about.
“I’ve never won the short program at nationals so that’s exciting for me,” said Bell. “I just want to do the best job that I possibly can and I tried my best just to stay in the moment.”
Bell certainly not only seemed totally ‘present’ in her performance but plugged in at a higher charge than ever, with perhaps this being an Olympic year as added incentive in her skating.
“The Olympics are a combination of a lot of years of work,” said Bell at the post-competition press conference as she sat alongside the other top finishers, Karen Chen, who was second and Alysa Liu, who placed third. “We’re all very lucky to be here and have the opportunity to make our dreams come true.”
Bell also credited her coaches for helping her reach this juncture, particularly Adam Rippon, the 2018 U.S. Olympian.
“He gives me really great perspective on things and helps me to stay professional, mature and grounded,” said Bell. “I’m super lucky to be able to work with Adam. He was always such a leader at the rink.”
Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. titlist, claimed second and earned a 74.55 for her firecracker short program to ‘Nocturne’ from ‘Lady Calph’ by Ennio Morricone and Maxime Rodriguez, a piece she had used back in 2015.
Chen, donned in black, flew around the ice like a falcon and knocked out a triple Lutz-triple toe loop, triple flip and double Axel with fervor, height and power, much to the delight of the crowd.
She also did some exceptional spins that were defined by terrific velocity and beautiful positioning.
Chen, who trains in Colorado Springs with Tammy Gambill, seemed as focused as ever an on a mission in this performance.
“I come here every year wanting to do my best and I’m definitely focused on that,” said Chen. “I wanted to embrace fearlessness and face my goals fearlessly.”
Certainly, Chen seemed to accomplish that goal in this faceoff.
Alysa Liu, the 2019 and 2020 U.S. champion, placed third with her power-charged program to the Gypsy Dance from ‘Don Quixote’ for which she was a awarded a 71.42.
Although she missed her opening triple Axel, Liu executed a power-charged triple Lutz-triple toe loop and triple flip with confidence and ownership, for which she scored plus grade of execution marks.
Liu’s program featured compelling choreography by Massimo Scali and seemed to be an effective vehicle in which to showcase her jumps, spins, footwork and overall skating.
Liu, who trains in Colorado Springs with Christy Krall, Drew Meekins and Viktor Pfiefer, was satisfied with her performance.
“I’m pretty happy with how I did,” said Liu. “I had a fun time here. My goal is to skate how I want to skate.”
Isabeau Levito, the 2021 U.S. junior ladies champion, flew into fourth place with her superb rendition of Saint Saens ‘The Swan,’ a performance that was a huge hit with the Bridgestone Arena crowd, who gave her a standing ovation.
Levito, who trains with Yulia Kuznetsova, Otar Japaridze, Slava Kuznetsov, Evgeni Platov and Zhanna Palagina in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, racked up a significant 71.00 for her compelling program in which she floated effortlessly around the ice at optimal speed, knocking out a triple flip, double Axel and triple flip-triple loop (in which the second jump was slightly short on rotation) with strength, command and textbook-like alignment.
Wearing a white dress with diamond accents, Levito’s skating was defined by a balletic quality reminiscent of the New York City Ballet or Russian Bolshoi ad involving lovely extension, notable toe and hand points and understanding of her positions in relation to the music.
At the same time, Levito’s spins were fast and featured beautiful full extension while her footwork was precise and reflective of the same standard of a top-level ice dance pattern.
In regard to her performance, Levito said she felt good about it.
“I felt very peaceful and comfortable and it was exciting to be in the moment,” said Levito. “I was really relaxed.”
Asked about which skaters she has admired, Levito said she has always loved watching Evgenia Medvedeva, the two-time Russian World champion.
“I always remember watching her when I was younger and just being glued to the phone screen in the car while eating my lunch,” said Levito.
Levito said ballet has played a big role in her skating and has been something she has been involved in since before she even got on the ice.
“I started ballet before I started skating,” said Levito. “It’s always stayed there with me with my skating.”