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U.S. Skaters Turn Their Attention to Worlds

by Liz Leamy

(22 March 2022) 

Mariah Bell

Mariah Bell, the high-octane American ladies competitor who claimed her first Championship title at the 2022 U.S. Nationals in Nashville last January looks to make an indelible mark at the 2022 World Championships in Montpellier, France next week.

Bell, who clinched gold at the U.S. Championships with her impressive collection of high-flying triple jumps, artful high-velocity spins, and quick speed and edges said she’s been working diligently in preparation for the championships that will be held at the Sud de France Arena from March 21st through March 27th.

“I feel really prepared for Worlds,” said Bell, who also skated in the ‘Art on Ice’ show in Switzerland several weeks ago following her 10th place finish at the 2022 Beijing Olympics this past February. “It feels like it’s been a whirlwind. I’m feeling really good and [am] really excited to compete internationally.”

Bell, the 2020 U.S. silver medalist and two-time U.S. bronze medalist, also said it’s all about doing her personal best when asked by media members on her take regarding the absence of the Russian contenders at the upcoming World Championships.

“Regardless of who’s there, I just want to go and do the best I can,” said the 25 year-old Westminster, Colorado native who trains in Lakewood, California with Raphael Arutyunyan and Adam Rippon, the famed 2018 Olympian. “That’s all I am focusing on.”

At Worlds Bell will be facing off against such international and domestic heavy hitters as Kaori Sakamoto, the 2022 Japanese Olympic bronze medalist, Wakaba Higuchi of Japan, the fifth-place finisher at the Beijing Olympics, Alysa Liu, the two-time U.S. champion who was seventh at the 2022 Olympics and Loena Hendrickx of Belgium who placed eighth in Beijing last month, among many other talented athletes.

Bell, a Los Angeles resident, will skate to ‘River Flows in You’ the riveting musical piece by Yiruma for her short and K.D. Lang’s ‘Hallelujah’ for her free skate, both of which she has consistently performed in memorable fashion over the past several seasons.

When asked about her plans to continue competing through the next Olympic cycle, Bell said that right now, it’s just all about embracing the moment.

“I haven’t really put thought into it. I really don’t have an answer,” said Bell. “I’m excited to go to Worlds then to Stars on Ice, then we’ll see what happens after that.”

Meanwhile, Bell noted that the camaraderie among the group of skaters at Great Park Ice, where she trains, has really helped motivate and inspire her in terms of her skating.

At that facility, she trains with Nathan Chen, the 2022 Olympic gold medalist who is coached by Arutyunyan, as well as Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Brandon Frazier, the 2021 U.S. titlists who work with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, the three-time U.S. champions and three-time World medalists.

“We’re all supporting each other and are there for each other,” said Bell. “You really lean on the people [around you] and your friends.”

At the same time, Bell gave big props to Arutyunyan for helping her reach this level in her skating career.

“He has such versatile technique and can take really any person and show them [how to achieve] success,” said Bell. “I think he takes a lot of pride in his athletes.”

Certainly, Arutyunyan knows how to get the results, especially in looking at the stats racked up by his skaters at National and international events over the years.

Last January, Bell represented the 11th skater under his tutelage to claim a medal in the senior division at the U.S. Championships, a feat that is remarkable considering the depth and standard of the American singles skating contingent.

“It says a lot about the coach he is and the person he is,” said Bell. “He is very strict and straightforward.”

In turn, Bell seems to be building upon that foundation as she looks edges into the World Championships in France next week.

Vincent Zhou

Vincent Zhou, the 2019 World bronze medalist and three-time U.S. silver medalist who took bronze at the 2022 U.S. Championships, but missed the singles event at the Beijing Winter Games, has been gearing up for the World Championships that will be held in Montpellier, France from March 21st through March 27th.

The 21 year-old Palo Alto, California native, known for his high-flying quads, has been working diligently at his training base in Colorado Springs, where he is coached by Tom Zakrajsek, Drew Meekins and Mie Hamada with the goal of wrapping up the 2021-2022 season in valiant fashion.

Zhou, who scored silver in the 2022 team figure skating event at the Beijing Olympics last February, has been hard at work since arriving back at Colorado Springs, running through his jumps, spins, footwork and programs in a consistent and focused manner on a daily basis.

“I’m going into training trying to do my thing,” said Zhou, who placed sixth at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang. “I’m just taking it one day and one step at a time.”

Zhou, who will be skating to Josh Groban’s poignant version of Don McLean’s ‘Vincent’ for his short and the ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ film soundtrack for his long program, said that it’s been a bit of an arduous process having come back from the Olympics in Beijing.

Upon earning silver in the team event, Zhou tested positive for Covid, causing him to withdraw from the men’s event in a major disappointment, especially with it being the Olympics, the premier event for any athlete to reach.

Further, more than a week later, after having quarantined alone in his room for six to seven days, Zhou then learned he was not allowed to participate in the Olympic closing ceremonies with the other members of Team USA when he tried to enter the Beijing National Stadium due to a timeline issue in regard to his original positive test.

“Normally I’m very resilient and I’m able to get my head back on track,” said Zhou. “My experience at the Olympics hit me harder than normal.”

Still, Zhou said he was excited about winning silver in the team event and having had the opportunity to skate in the gala exhibition at the conclusion of the Olympics.

“After being in isolation for so long I was grateful,” said Zhou about the gala.

Somehow, Zhou’s free skate warrior theme seems to vividly capture so much of his spirit as, during his 2022 pre-Worlds media teleconference, he expressed terrific hope and fight despite some of the setbacks at the Beijing Olympics.

“I’m a fighter and not ready to go down yet,” said Zhou. “As hard as it has been, I was back on the ice after one day [back],” said Zhou. “I’m taking things one day at a time and I’m not ready to give up yet. I’m hoping I can bring out a spark of something at the World Championships. I don’t give up easily.”

Zhou, who is the first skater to land a quad Lutz at an Olympics (in 2018), has a good shot at winding up on the podium in Montpellier if he turns on his famous jumping gear.

Moreover, considering the fact that Nathan Chen, the 2022 U.S. Olympic champion and three-time World titlist and Yuzuru Hanyu, the 2014 and 2018 Japanese Olympic gold medalist have both withdrawn from this Worlds, Zhou is poised to be in solid medal contention.

Zhou, who is planning to resume full-time studies at Brown University next September after having taken a two-year hiatus, said he is happy at the prospect he has stayed true to his competitive plans in spite of the recent unexpected twists and turns that have occurred in his skating journey.

“Taking this step of going to Worlds and giving it my best shot is already a big win for me,” said Zhou. “It [makes] me really proud to go.”

Zhou’s dedication shows him to be a true competitor, as he faces big challenges and obstacles with the same spirit he uses to execute his triples and quads, making his journey one that is both compelling and inspiring to watch.

Ashley Cain-Gribble & Tomothy LeDuc

Ashley Cain-Gribble & Timothy LeDuc, the 2019 and 2022 U.S. champions, are looking to make a their mark at the 2022 World Championships in Montpellier, France.

This Dallas area based duo, who racked up an eighth-place finish at the 2022 Olympic Games are in a strong position to pull off a top-four finish, or perhaps even to medal, since the top five finishers last month in Beijing, who represented Russia and China, will not be competing in Montpellier.

For Cain-Gribble & LeDuc, it’s all about doing their best, however.

“We’re really excited for this opportunity to be competing on our fourth World team and third World Championships,” said LeDuc, who, with his partner, have also claimed two bronze U.S. medals in the senior pairs division (in 2017 and 2021). “We just try to keep our blinders on and stay laser focused on what we need to do and what we need to accomplish on the ice.”

Cain-Gribble agreed.

“With it being the last competition [of the season], there are scores we have in mind we want to achieve and we’re going more toward that,” said Cain-Gribble, 26, who trains with LeDuc, 31, in Euless, Texas under the tutelage of her parents, Peter and Darlene Cain and also Nina Mozer and Vladislav Zhovnirski. “If we focus on that and not so much the outcome, we’ll put together two performances that we’ll feel like we gave 100 percent to.”

This duo, who wowed the crowd at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee last January, where they clinched their second U.S. title, are planning to skate to Ilan Eshkeri’s ‘The White Crow’ sung by Lisa Batiashvili for their short and ‘W.E.’ by Abel Korzeniowski for their long program, both of which are poignant and powerful pieces in which they showcase their technique and artistry in optimal and memorable manner.

“I feel like we’ve had a really strong season so far where we’ve had points that have kept going up and elements that have increased in value,” said Cain-Gribble.

Upon the conclusion of Worlds, Cain-Gribble & LeDuc are planning to be part of the 2022 Ice Dreams National Tour, an event presented by Fireworks Sports Marketing that will consist of 10 shows held throughout the U.S. that will feature such renowned skaters such as Gracie Gold, the 2014 and 2016 U.S. champion and Jeremy Abbott, the four-time U.S. titlist, among others.

“We’re super excited to be doing the 10 shows with Ice Dreams,” said LeDuc, who noted they plan to skate to a medley from ‘The Great Gatsby’ film soundtrack for the tour. “We’re really excited to perform with an awesome cast and do that number.”

Cain-Gribble concurred, adding they are also excited to do the meet and greets and get on the ice with skaters from the areas around the country in which the tour will perform.

“The cast is going to be amazing and I’m excited to go on tour with them and also meet the skaters at the local rinks,” said Cain-Gribble. “It’ll be really fun.”

In terms of any decisions they have made in regard to continuing competing through another Olympic cycle, Cain-Gribble and LeDuc plan to discuss this topic upon returning home from Worlds.

“We’ve made a decision to make a decision after Worlds,” said LeDuc. “We will finish the season and take some time after that to process.”

One thing Cain-Gribble and LeDuc said they both plan to do in the future is to get involved in coaching.

“We both are planning to coach for a season of time,” said LeDuc. “We’re both really passionate about coaching and working with the next generation and shaping the sport in a positive way. That’s something we’ve tried to do on the ice and hope to do in working with skaters.”

Cain-Gribble agreed and said she is excited about sharing her knowledge of the sport with others, especially pair skaters.

“I personally would like to have a pairs program one day,” said Cain-Gribble. “That is one of my goals. I like working with pair teams and I just think it’s so fun.”

Both Cain-Gribble and LeDuc have been affecting the sport on many levels, and for right now, are making their mark as major influencers on the ice, representing the U.S. at the elite level.

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, the 2022 Olympic bronze medalists and three-time U.S. champions, are looking forward to competing in their last major competition at the World Championships in Montpellier, France.

This iconic dance team, known for their incredible technical prowess, power and presence on the ice, has been working as hard as ever at their home training base in Montreal since returning from Beijing several weeks ago where they scored their first-ever Olympic medal.  This medal is a coveted addition to their already extensive collection of hardware, which includes three World medals and six U.S. silver and bronze medals in addition to their three U.S. golds, and  other major citations.

For Hubbell & Donohue, it’s all about doing their best, however.

“When we’re competing, the amount of pressure and drive is the same,” said Donohue, a Madison, Connecticut native. “We’re just aspiring everyday.”

Hubbell, who originates from Okemos, Michigan, agreed.

“We’ve been doing our best to ramp up on the energy side and represent Team USA,” said Hubbell.

Although the duo admitted to dealing with the rollercoaster of emotions having come off of competing at an Olympic Games, a process of which so many other athletes who reach that level of competition go through, they said they were extremely motivated as the result of their experience in Beijing.

“It was definitely a source of inspiration,” said Donohue, 31, who, with Hubbell had placed fourth at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang. “It was such a unique experience not only to get to the Games, but to win a medal.”

Hubbell concurred.

“Looking back, it was so much more than just that one performance,” said Hubbell, 31. “It was about the four years leading up to it.”

Certainly, this team has been on a mission these past four years, pushing hard ever since they had narrowly missed making the podium at the 2018 Olympics where they were edged out by their U.S. teammates, Maia and Alex Shibutani, the third-place finishers at that event.

“We’re walking away from a special few years,” said Hubbell. “We’ve been very lucky.”

Hubbell & Donohue are considered to be one of the hardest working dance teams around.  Everyday, this couple is is known to spend hours on and off the ice training their edges, turns, steps, lifts, spins and programs together and with members of their coaching team, Marie France-Dubrueil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer.

At the same time, the chemistry between these two skaters is palpable and has played a role in their hugely successful career together.

At the upcoming Worlds, Hubbell & Donohue are looking to once again end up on the podium.  There they will face off against Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron, the 2022 French Olympic gold medalists and four-time World titlists, Madison Chock & Evan Bates, the 2022 U.S. champions and two-time World medalists, among other premiere teams. Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov of Russia will not be competing due the ISU decision to bean skaters from Russia from ISU events, due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“As happy as we were with the performance and outcome [at the Olympics], there were things we could’ve done better,” said Hubbell. “We’re excited to share our last skates with the crowd [in France] and we want to grab all those points and get the highest levels.”  “Every athlete that’s there [at the World Championships] is deserving and of a World standard,” said Hubbell.

Hubbell & Donohue, who both plan to coach when after they wrap up this final season of competing together said, when asked about their legacy, that it’s all about authenticity and believing in who and what you are out on the ice.

“For me, what’s been most important is what we’ve achieved with all the odds,” said Donohue, who helped come up with the phrase, ‘find authentic and stay there,’ which was printed on U.S. Figure Skating rubber bracelets. “[In] every single program, we’ve been authentic and have always honored who we are.”

Hubbell elaborated, “Instead of trying to change who we were, we kept going and found a [coaching] team who helped make us our best,” said Hubbell. “At this point, we just feel excited about making a fun and exciting atmosphere for the sport.”  Noting their extraordinary competitive history together, they clearly know how to do just that.

Madison Chock & Evan Bates

Madison Chock & Evan Bates, the three-time U.S. champions and two-time World medalists are geared up to medal at the upcoming 2022 World Championships in Montpellier, France.

This accomplished dance team, who has represented the U.S at three consecutive Olympic Games and have been skating together for more than a decade, has been working steadfastly since the 2022 Olympics wrapped up in Beijing last February, where they earned a silver medal in the Team Event, and placed fourth in the ice dance event, in preparation for the World Championships.

“We’ve been just decompressing after the Games,” said Bates, who grew up in Michigan and has been based in Montreal for past several years where he and Chock train with Marie France-Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer. “Now we’re looking ahead to France to a very important competition and training has been going well.” 

This elite dance team scored their third U.S. title last January in Nashville and placed fourth at the 2022 Olympics as the result of their stellar lifts, light-as-air edges, turns and steps and other exceptional elements and once again, plan to use their signature Rhythm and Free Dance programs to a Billie Eilish medley and Daft Punk’s ‘Contact’ in Montpellier.

“We’re just trying to focus on ourselves,” said Bates, who is 33 years old. “We’re going to go there and give it our best shot.”

With the Russian athletes not competing at this event, Chock & Bates are strong contenders for a medal finish, especially considering the 2022 Beijing Olympics silver medalists, Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov are not on the Worlds roster.

Remarking on their experience at the Beijing Olympics, Chock & Bates said it was a good and memorable outing on all fronts.

“It was a really wonderful event for us to be able to share in the moment that has been four years in the making,” said Chock, 29. “The magic and uniqueness of the event has not worn off and it never will.”

Bates agreed.

“It was a unique Games and we took in all of it and it was great,” said Bates. “It was a lifetime experience.”

Chock & Bates, who captivated the crowd in Nashville with their Daft Punk alien-themed free dance program, also said they are planning to continue competing as they look forward to the future.

“We’re planning to continue beyond this season,” said Bates. “We’re not done yet.”

This is good news for many in the skating world and beyond, especially considering the fact that they bring so much to the sport in terms of their skills, artistry and well, heart.

For Chock & Bates, doing their part to bring joy to people through their skating is essential.

“Figure skating is a source of joy for so many,” said Chock. “If we can spread that joy maybe we can help [people] escape whatever they’re battling. Hopefully, we can be a little part of that joy that brings them light.”

Chock & Bates also discussed their feelings in regard to the current situation with Russia and the Ukraine.

“I wish I could do more to help other than donate any money I can,” said Bates. “[I’m constantly thinking] ‘what are we going to do to help?’ and I think figure skating brings joy to people and inspires people.”

Asked about the role skating plays in their lives, Chock and Bates expressed deep gratitude over having had the privilege and opportunity to skate all of these years.

“A sports career is exceptionally fleeting,” said Bates. “There’s always a little bit of extra gratitude for every moment in our skating.”

Chock echoed similar sentiments.

“We have a little blip of time on this earth,” said Chock. “We’ll do everything we can to keep that spark going.”