Mariah Bell relishes ‘old’ title ahead of Olympic figure skating debut

Mariah Bell skates during a practice session at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
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UPDATE: Reigning world champion Anna Shcherbakova won the women’s figure skating Olympic title while Kamila Valiyeva placed fourth. Shcherbakova was joined on the podium by silver medalist and compatriot Aleksandra Trusova and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, who won bronze. Mariah Bell finished 10th.


Originally published: February 3, 2022

If age is just a number, then why spend so much time talking about it? That’s what Team USA’s Mariah Bell wants to know ahead of her Winter Olympics debut in Beijing.

At 25, she is considered “old” in her sport, especially among her fellow women competitors in Beijing where she’ll be the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles competitor since 1928. But just like every other challenge in her life, Bell looks at it as an opportunity to deliver a message.

“I don’t talk about my age, but people love to talk about it,” Bell recently told On Her Turf. Of the three American women competing in Beijing Games, she and 22-year-old teammate Karen Chen are older than every gold medalist since 1936 save one: Japan’s Shizuka Arakawa, who had turned 24 just prior to the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

“I’m really excited to have this title of being ‘old,’ I guess, because I don’t feel old at all. I want to keep going for several more years, and I especially want other young girls in skating to know it doesn’t have to end at a certain time.”

MORE OLYMPIC FIGURE SKATING: Anna Shcherbakova wins figure skating gold as scrutiny crushes Kamila Valiyeva

Lucky for skating fans, Team USA, and particularly herself, that Bell felt that way, otherwise she may never have realized a life-long dream that didn’t really galvanize until she was 21.

In 2018, Bell had a shot at making the U.S. Olympic team but was ultimately the second alternate. Watching the Games from her home in Irvine, Calif., she knew she’d be in a different position come 2022.

“I was like, ‘I’m so motivated,'” said Bell, who was born in Tulsa, Okla., and began skating at age 4. “I just know I’m not going to be an alternate next time. Like, that’s my only goal. And I remember watching the Games from home and just being like, ‘I want to be there so bad.'”

Just like real life, though, it’s been a series of highs and lows over the past four years. Bell found herself at one of those low points while training in California for the 2019-20 season. She tells a funny story about a rather distraught trip to Dunkin’ Donuts one Friday morning, where she sat in her car with two strawberry-frosted donuts and made one pivotal decision: She called friend and 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Adam Rippon and asked for help.

He was at the rink on Monday.

“Adam kind of brings the fun,” Bell told People in January.

Along with knowing herself well enough to ask for help, Bell believes her honest, “open book” policy about her feelings is one of her best practices when it comes to nurturing her own mental health.

“Everybody struggles with mental health to some degree – it’s such a normal thing,” explains Bell, who considers Rippon her “secondary coach,” with Rafael Arutunian as her primary coach and former Canadian ice dancing world champion Shae-Lynn Bourne as her choreographer.

“But for athletes, it seems like it’s such an abnormal thing when people talk about it, but it’s not, you know? It’s so normal. I was asked (before): How do you cope with the stresses of competition or whatever? And, honestly, the best way to cope, I think, is to talk about it, to share and to know that you’re not dealing with the stress or anxiety alone.”

Rippon’s arrival at the rink translated quickly to improved performance on the ice, where she finished second at the 2020 U.S. nationals to a standing ovation following her free skate. Off the ice, Bell had found love with French figure skater Romain Ponsart and the two had gotten engaged just prior to nationals.

“I felt like, ‘Wow, I’m just on top of the world,'” she said. “Skating is going amazing. I’m engaged; this is so exciting. And you know, life throws you curveballs.”

Indeed. Following what she calls a “rough nationals” where she finished fifth in 2021, Bell was passed over for the U.S. world championships team that spring. Then last summer, she was blindsided when Ponsart ended their engagement.

“That was shocking and heartbreaking,” she admits. “And you feel like you’re like mourning something because I was so in love with him.”

But that low point passed, too, perhaps not replaced but definitely usurped last month by the high of finally winning her first U.S. nationals in her ninth appearance and making her first Olympic team.

“I hope that people know, even if things are tough, or you kind of have to work through some stuff – and on top of that, being old – it literally it doesn’t matter,” said Bell. “If you have a dream, and you want to work for something, and you’re motivated to do it, nothing should stop you – no circumstances or age or whatever.”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto captures Olympic bronze with empowering free skate

2022 Winter Olympics: Women’s Figure Skating Schedule

Event  Date/Time (U.S. Eastern Time) Date/Time (Beijing, China)
Women’s Short Program 2/15/22 5:00 AM 2/15/22 6:00 PM
Women’s Free Skate 2/17/22 5:00 AM 2/17/22 6:00 PM

On Her Turf editor Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.