GREENSBORO, N.C. — As soon as Mariah Bell completed her final spin, she dropped to the ice and was overcome with emotions. She covered her face with her hands and then screamed in excitement.
Bell remained on the ice as the large crowd inside the Greensboro Coliseum Center gave her a standing ovation. Her performance on Friday was so strong fans were standing and cheering for her before she even finished her free skate.
Bell had to settle for being the unofficial people’s champion at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity. She scored a 151.99 in the free skate and finished with 225.21 to place second behind now two-time national champion Alysa Liu at 235.52.
“It’s a very special feeling. I haven’t had that before in my career, so that was awesome,” Bell said, trying to capture her emotions following her performance. “The coolest thing about it was how into it the crowd was. They were so loud. It was really, really cool. I just love to get to share what I get to do and what I love to do with an audience like that. So I feel very fortunate to have had that experience.”
The 23-year-old couldn’t stop smiling on her final night at the national championships. It appeared at least for a few minutes as if the Monument, Colorado, native would get to celebrate winning her first national title.
As the second-to-last skater to perform, Bell vaulted to the top of the leaderboard after her impressive performance to k.d. lang’s cover of “Hallelujah.” She avoided the small mistakes that cost her a day earlier in the women’s short program, and she landed her jumps and nailed her spins.
However, Liu immediately followed Bell on the ice and responded to the challenge. The 14-year-old skating prodigy earned a score of 160.12 with her technically difficult routine to narrowly edge Bell for her second consecutive national title.
Bell didn’t show any signs of being disappointed, though. She improved on her bronze-medal finishes at the 2017 and 2019 national championships, and she continued what has been a strong season for her both domestically and internationally.
As Bell collected herself following Friday’s performance, 2018 Olympic team medalist Adam Rippon grabbed her arm in the kiss and cry and raised it toward the crowd. Bell credited Rippon, who along with Rafael Arutunian coaches her, for the improved results this season.
“Adam has been such a major part of my success this year,” Bell said. “He completely changed my outlook on training, and he’s given me so much time and energy when he has a busy schedule himself. But he truly loves to come to the rink, and to have that moment with him here was so special. I was hoping that something like that would happen because he deserves to have that moment, too, and I’m just so happy that we could share it together.”
Bell entered Friday in contention to potentially win her first national title. She stood in third place behind a pair of national champions in Olympic team medalist Bradie Tennell and Liu, respectively, following the short program on Thursday night.
Bell earned a 73.22 with her short program, and she would have impressed the judges even more had she avoided a freak footwork fall toward the end of the routine. Afterward, she admitted she was “happy” with her performance, except “obviously not with the footwork.”
“I mean ice is slippery, so you might slip sometimes,” Bell said, laughing.
U.S. Figure Skating will name the 2020 world championships women’s team on Sunday, and Bell seems to be a lock to be named to it following her performance in Greensboro and her record this season, which includes three medals at three international competitions: bronzes at her grand prix assignments and gold at a Challenger Series event.
Tennell is also in position to join her on the team despite her struggles over the past few months with an elbow injury that affected her more than she expected at the national championships.
The goal for both women, should they be selected, will be to earn the U.S. a third women’s spot at the following year’s worlds.
“I think this year for sure we’re very prepared (for the world championships). We’ve done very well on the grand prix circuit, obviously Bradie making it to the final,” Bell said. “I think we’re really prepared, and we’re just going to go do our jobs like we always do and I think we’re in a really good position this year.”
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.