Adam Rippon and Mariah Bell break down her incredible performance at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Nationals

Coach and mentor Adam Rippon has reinvigorated 23-year-old Mariah Bell’s performances by adding a bit of Britney Spears and confidence to her already beautiful skating
By Scott Bregman and Edward Knowles

The crowd were on their feet long before the end of routine. Mariah Bell landed a triple lutz jump and the audience went wild. The 23-year-old collapsed with emotion at the end of the routine in clear elation. She had secured a second place behind 14-year-old Alysa Liu at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Her selection for the world championships had become a formality.

In 2018, Mariah was a second alternate for the Olympics. Now, her coach and mentor Adam Rippon says ‘the sky is the limit’ for Mariah.

The Olympic Channel went to find out why adding a little bit of Britney into the mix has made such a big impact.

Mariah Bell (centre) celebrates at U.S Nationals with coaches Adam Rippon (left) with and Rafael Arutyunyan (right)

Britney Spears and Mariah Bell

Olympic Channel: So, tell me about putting together a short program with the Britney Spears song 'Work'. It's a little different than what you've skated to in the past, Mariah. Was that Adam's idea? Was it your idea? How did that come together?

Mariah Bell: It was definitely Adam's idea. I think it was after nationals last year (he came) to work with me a little bit. And he was just like, ‘You should skate to Britney’. And I was like, ‘Oh, wow’. It's different for me, but I loved it and I was a little bit nervous just because it was super out of my comfort zone. I've never done anything like that. But it was so much fun to create it. We worked hard. I was a little uncomfortable at the beginning with some of the movements

Mariah Bell skates to Britney Spears in the Ladies Short Program during the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Mariah Bell: I remember when we first started working, I was almost embarrassed to do it. I would go back home and with all the other coaches and skaters, whatever, nobody was judging, obviously, but I would be almost embarrassed almost to do it. And then I got to this point where I was like, ‘OK, I've got to train it, though. So, I just have to forget’. Like, it doesn't matter. Breaking through that in practice helped a lot. For sure, it helped me as an overall total performer.

I would be almost embarrassed to do it - Mariah Bell on skating to Britney Spears

Adam Rippon: I think as a coach and a choreographer, sometimes you kind of need to trick your student into becoming more comfortable with something that they are uncomfortable with. And I think that was the mentality.

I think if you can skate to something with confidence that you're not comfortable with, when you then go to something that you're comfortable with, it becomes your bread and butter. It doesn't become your crutch. Everyone knows that Mariah's a beautiful skater. But if we can get Mariah to skate in this different style, it's going to get Mariah to skate even more beautiful because she's going to really feel at home.

Memories from the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Olympic Channel: Can I take you back to that moment you created at the 2020 U.S. Nationals? How does it feel thinking back?

Mariah Bell: It's so funny because I was talking to my parents. I don't have thoughts when I'm skating, so it almost feels like I didn't actually do it when I watch myself. But I also remember it very vividly. I was telling Adam that I couldn't hear my music at the end and that was so cool. That's a moment that I think I'm going to remember forever. I just feel really fortunate to have had that moment and for him to be here was really, really cool.

It's one of the best performances I've ever seen anyone do - Adam Rippon on Mariah Bell's U.S. nationals performance

OC: Adam, what are you thinking watching her, just, you know, especially at the end when the tears were already flowing?

Adam Rippon: Everything kind of flows through your mind. I remember where Mariah was last year, where I felt like she was so close to that perfect performance. And then this summer, we sat down together and we talked about what can she do differently to take her skating to a different level. And. I felt like for Mariah, this year, this skate was just a culmination of what she's been doing all year. It's a different emotion to do it at the national championships and when I take a step back, and I think about like the moment she created, I think that in my skating life, it's one of the best performances I've ever seen anyone do.

It's like Michelle Kwan-esque of like what happened in that arena. To have you enter your last spin and you can't hear the music, and then when you're in your last spin, everybody's already standing. It's like one of those amazing moments. It's the reason I started skating is because of moments like that.

Everybody knew that they were going to stand up. It was just figuring out the logistics! But the energy is just something like I've never felt before.

Mariah Bell breaks down with emotion at 2020 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships

OC: For you, Mariah, is that joy that you had after the last jump - is that something that can only ever happen in competition?

MB: I do try and put myself in a competition setting. Obviously, it's extremely difficult at home when there's like four people on the ice and nobody watching. But I do. And I try to also visualise how it would feel to land the last Lutz (jump).

I promise you, I thought about like landing the last Lutz exactly that way, like since I got here because I knew it was possible. But the biggest change, obviously, is the support that you have from the fans. We're so lucky to get to skate in front of fans and for them to be so accepting of what we're doing.

Even around my second to last spin, they were already getting really loud!

OC: What did you guys say to each other afterwards?

MB: I don't even remember. I was crying, but there weren't really tears coming out yet.

AR: It was really emotional because I've seen Mariah do so many run throughs. I've seen her skate like that at home. But when she skates like that, of course, she doesn't get worked up because she knows that, you know, either me or (coach) Rafael (Arutyunyan) is going to ask her to just do two more long programs like that. So, there's no emotion tied to it. I think that's been the biggest change in Mariah. I think that's why she's so solid. I think that's why she's so reliable.

She’s really showing the whole skating world that it really doesn't matter how old you are or how long you've been skating, that when you apply yourself and you put your mind to it, you can have the best years of your career. Age is just a number, especially in this sport.

It's just as inspiring and, as equally as difficult to create the moment that Mariah created, as it is to land a quad.

Quad jumps versus artistry

OC: There’s always a tension between artistic ability and physicality in figure skating. When you see the Russian teenagers landing quads – is that intimidating for you? Do you focus on that or concentrate on creating those more artistic moments?

MB: I think it's a mix of both. I think like I'm focusing now on what I can do, but I definitely don't have a cap on what I think I'm capable of. I've been working on some triple axels and I'll continue to do that. I’m definitely capable of that. This is my seventh senior nationals, but I feel like I'm just now like starting on this journey.

AR: I think that what's so great about skating is that there's room for so many kinds of skaters and there can be so many different kinds of personalities in an event, I think it leads to something more exciting. At the end of the day, you want to collect as many points as you can get. Mariah is one of my favourite skaters, and I think that's what she brings to the table. And I think when you look at somebody like like Alysa (Liu). Alysa brings this incredible technical aspect, she's 14, and she skates very well.

Alysa Liu skates to victory at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

AR: I think the presentation that Mariah brings is obviously different, but I think, at the end of the day, you want to get as many points as you can get. And that's what Mariah and I have been focusing on. I think that's what I've told Mariah to keep the focus on so that

How is Alysa going to get the most amount of points? Well, she's going to put out all of these elements. Well, that's good for her. Where are you going to do? And the focus has been to do what she can do the best, of course. The goal is to have triple axels in the program next season and hopefully in the Olympic season, too. But the sky's the limit.

Adam Rippon and Mariah Bell were guests on this week's Olympic Channel Podcast. Find more figure skating interviews and how to subscribe here.

The questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.