Mariah Bell competes during the women's single skating free skate at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 17, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING — Until she won the U.S. title in January, Mariah Bell never thought too much about her age. After the 25-year-old captured the crown on her ninth try, though, it was the first thing people wanted to talk about.
Reporters were quick to tell Bell she was the oldest U.S. women’s champion since Beatrix Loughran some 95 years earlier, and questions about her age continued right up through her 10th-place finish at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
“All of a sudden at nationals, there were these facts being thrown around, about how I was the oldest in I don’t know how long,” Bell said in Beijing earlier this month. “That title was given to me, but I’ll gladly take it.”
Three of the 30 skaters who competed in women’s singles in Beijing are a shade older than Bell. But most — including Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, the gold and silver medalists from RPC, and two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who placed seventh — are teenagers.
Reminded that some of these younger athletes possessed the quadruple jumps and triple axels she lacked, Bell refused to take the bait. To her, being 25 is a plus.
“I don’t feel that much different (physically) than I did when I was 17 or 18, only I do have more experience,” she said. “When you’re younger, you’re dealing with growing, and your body’s changing. At 25, that’s not happening anymore. That’s to my advantage.
“I know my body, I know how to train. I have more experience dealing with nerves and excitement. I have all of my tools and I just pull them out when I need them and I get to enjoy my skating and have all of these amazing experiences.”
To Bell’s way of thinking, success didn’t come late, but right when she was most prepared to handle it. In 2017, after winning bronze at the U.S. championships and placing 12th at her first world championships, she was considered a contender for the PyeongChang Olympic team. An uneven 2017-18 season, especially a disappointing sixth place at the U.S. championships, put that goal out of reach. Today, she thinks she simply wasn’t ready.
“I just let everything become way too big,” Bell said. “Skating wasn’t even that fun. Competing felt so stressful that year. It felt I was trying not to lose something, rather than to gain something.
“This year, I was just excited to gain something. I had nothing to lose.”
Bell credits her long-term thinking to her parents, Kendra and Andrew Bell, who supported — but never pushed — her skating career and that of her older sister Morgan, who competed as a senior at three U.S. championships.
“What they wanted for us was not to be national champions or Olympians,” she said. “That would be amazing, but what they cared about was the people we became, what our work ethic was, were we kind, were we positive influences in society? … I think they did this perfectly. I want them to write a book.”
Told of her daughter’s suggestion, Kendra Bell laughed; a book isn’t on her to-do list. But she agreed with Mariah’s take on how the family treated skating.
“The only thing Mariah and Morgan ever had to do, was finish what they started,” she said. “If I signed a contract (with a rink) that they would skate X number of weeks, with X number of sessions, they were going to finish that contract. But other than that, no. Finish what you start was the only requirement.”