Mariah Bell put on a fascinating free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday night, edging out Karen Chen for her first gold and avoiding any drama as to whether she is heading for her first Winter Olympics.
Bell led after a spectacular short program, but it took an equally incredible performance of kd lang’s portrayal of Leonard Cohen’s signature Hallelujah to reach the top step of the podium. She had 140.70 points in her free skate and a total of 216.25 points, leaving Chen almost three points out of second place.
“I’m really grateful to be here and to compete,” said Bell, 25, the oldest national champion in 95 years. “I was really nervous for this program and just did my best to stay in the moment, grab every point, and the audience is so amazing and I’m so honored and grateful.”
Fourteen-year-old Isabeau Levito, who is too young to compete in the Olympics, almost stole the show in her senior national championship debut. She finished with 210.75 points to win a brilliant bronze medal.
Bell and Chen are on lockdown when the US figure skating selection committee announces the three-woman squad that will travel to the Beijing Games next month. The other place should go to Alysa Liu, the two-time national champion who finished third after her short program but had to withdraw earlier on Friday following a positive Covid-19 test.
Earlier today, Madison Chock and Evan Bates crashed into the smaller of the openings created by training partners and friendly rivals Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue to win the rhythm dance competition.
Dancing to a mix of Billie Eilish songs, Chock and Bates were perfect on their curve, closely in unison on their brilliant twizzles and brought down the house with their final stage streak to score 91.94 points – the score highest ever at national championships and more than two points higher than any posted during the Grand Prix season.
“It’s a real testament to our training,” said Chock. “Since the cancellation of the Grand Prix final, we have had more time to prepare than we would have and we took the opportunity to polish and smooth out the details.”
Hubbell and Donohue finished with 89.39 points to keep them striking distance heading into Saturday’s free dance, which will not only decide the national title but will also help select the three-team Olympic squad.
“Even though there were small things, we didn’t back down. We didn’t give up, ”said Hubbell, who, along with Donohue, finished fourth at the Pyeongchang Olympics. “The shit happens and then the other competitors skate really well, and that’s what it is.”
The race for gold will be just as close as the race for bronze and last place in Beijing. Caroline Green and Michael Parsons have 80.85 points and Kaitlin Hawayak and Jean-Luc Baker are only one point behind them in fourth place.
“We’ve gotten really good at focusing on what we can control. Our performance on the ice is something we are responsible for, ”said Parsons. “There is definitely a lot at stake, but when we’re on our schedule, we don’t even think about it. “