Mariah Bell put together a mesmerizing free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday night, edging Karen Chen for her first gold medal and taking any drama out of whether she's headed to her first Winter Olympics.
Bell led after a spectacular short program, but it took an equally incredible performance to k.d. lang's rendition of the Leonard Cohen staple “Hallelujah” to reach the top step of the podium. She earned 140.70 points in her free skate and had 216.25 in total, leaving Chen nearly three points back in second place.
“I'm just really grateful to be here and be competing," said the 25-year-old Bell, the oldest national champion in 95 years. “I was really nervous for this program and just tried my best to stay in the moment, grab every point, and the audience is so amazing and I'm just so honored and grateful.”
Fourteen-year-old Isabeau Levito, who is too young to compete at the Olympics, nearly stole the show in her first senior nationals debut. She finished with 210.75 points to claim a brilliant bronze medal.
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Bell and Chen are locks when U.S. Figure Skating's selection committee announces the three-woman team headed to the Beijing Games next month. The other spot is likely to go to Alysa Liu, the two-time national champion who was third after her short program but had to withdraw earlier Friday following a positive test for COVID-19.
Earlier in the day, Madison Chock and Evan Bates crashed through the smallest of openings created by training partners and friendly rivals Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue to win the rhythm dance competition.
Dancing to a medley of Billie Eilish songs, Chock and Bates were perfection on their curve lift, tightly in unison on their brilliant twizzles and brought down the house with their finishing step sequence to score 91.94 points — the highest score ever at nationals and more than two points higher than any posted during the Grand Prix season.
“It's a true testament to our training,” Chock said. “Since the Grand Prix final was canceled, we had more time to prepare than we would have and we took advantage of that, polishing and smoothing out the details.”
Hubbell and Donohue finished with 89.39 points to keep them within striking distance heading into Saturday’s free dance, which not only will decide the national title but also help with selecting the three-team Olympic squad.
“Even though there were little things, we didn't back off. We didn't let up,” said Hubbell, who along with Donohue were fourth at the Pyeongchang Olympics. “Crap happens and then other competitors skate very well, and it is what it is.”
The race for gold will be just as tight as the race for bronze and the final spot in Beijing. Caroline Green and Michael Parsons have 80.85 points and Kaitlin Hawayak and Jean-Luc Baker are only a 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're in charge of,” Parsons said. “There's a lot on the line for sure, but when we're in our program, we don't even think about it.”