Skate America: Bell on skating with no crowds; Chock/Bates withdraw

With the Grand Prix of Figure Skating opener set for later this month, Mariah Bell says no fans on site means skating ‘for yourself.’ Meanwhile, ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates have withdrawn.

By Nick McCarvel

American figure skater Mariah Bell sees skating in an empty arena as an “internal” challenge.

“It’s a kind of a new normal,” Bell told Team USA in an interview this week. “I feel like I love to share for the audience. I don’t want to be selfish and do it for myself, but if there are no fans there watching at the moment, you are kind of doing it for yourself.”

She added: “The energy is less outward, and it can be more internal. … The performances (can) feel even more special for the skater, and obviously the fans if they watch at home.”

Skate America will kick off a Grand Prix Series like none before it when skaters take to the ice in Las Vegas from 23-25 October.

The ISU announced in August that Grand Prix competitions would be more national/regional events, limiting the amount of international travel required while also still putting on events.

Skaters will compete in just one Grand Prix versus the normal two. US Figure Skating revealed recently that Skate America will be held behind closed doors and with strict social distancing protocols in place.

Chock and Bates withdraw

The pandemic has provided plenty of challenges for athletes around the world, including access to training facilities and injury management.

Those obstacles have proved too great for two-time Skate America ice dance winners Madison Chock and Evan Bates who announced their withdrawal on Friday (9 October).

"Our training and preparation have been affected by the pandemic and at this time we are 100% focused on our preparation for the 2021 U.S. Championships,” they said in a statement via US Figure Skating.

“We will be staying at our training base in Montreal, but will certainly miss the thrill of competition and seeing our (skating) family. We wish everyone good health and good luck!”

Despite their absence, Skate America will feature a host of Olympians including Bell's California training mate and two-time world champ Nathan Chen and world bronze medallist Vincent Zhou.

Two-time World Championship medallists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue will lead the ice dance field.

While the fields are predominantly made up of American skaters, there will be athletes in Las Vegas who train in the United States.

They including Czech veteran Michal Brezina and Canadian Keegan Messing, and Russia's four-time world pairs medallists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov who won silver in the team event at PyeongChang 2018.

Bell of the ball

In an interview with Olympic Channel in August, Bell revealed that she continues to push herself both technically and artistically following a career-best season in 2019-20, where she placed second in the U.S. Championships behind Alysa Liu.

As she tries to add more elements to her skating including the sought-after triple Axel, she said, "I believe that I can do so much more. And I think I'm just getting started.

"I am often asked about my age. Twenty-four? That used to be ancient in skating. (But) I feel so young because I feel like I have so much to learn still. I think that keeps my spirit young… that’s what (coach) Rafael (Arutunian) tells me. We have so much more that we can do. We’ll see. I'll see what happens."

"I think the sky is the limit." - Mariah Bell to Olympic Channel

Last season, Bell added Olympic team bronze medallist Adam Rippon to her coaching team, Rippon having served in a choreography role beforehand.

The signs are positive to start an already strange 2020-21 season: Bell won a virtual competition in the U.S. over the past few weeks, outscoring both Liu and 2018 U.S. champ Bradie Tennell, her two chief domestic rivals.

Bell made waves with her Britney Spears short program last season, and this year her short is to pop artist Pink.

“I love that we’re sticking with strong female artists,” Bell told Team USA. “I’m going through the list: I’ve done Celine (Dion), and Britney, and now I’m doing Pink. I love the program.”

The pandemic has been challenging for her on a personal level, too: her boyfriend is French skater Romain Ponsart who also normally trains under Arutunian but has been home in France for the past few months.

“When corona passes, Romain will be back and (training mate Chen) will be very excited, as Michal (Brezina) will, to have Raf’s group (of senior skaters) all back together, but obviously I will be the most excited,” she added. “We are FaceTiming for hours and hours a day. FaceTime is amazing.”