The Mayan civilization? Ancient. The Colosseum in Rome? Covered in cobwebs. Twenty-five-year-old American figure skater Mariah Bell? Prepped and ready for mummification, apparently.
On Friday, Bell won gold at the 2022 US Figure Skating Championship, becoming the oldest United States women’s national champion in 95 years and securing her spot on the American team headed to the Beijing Olympics next month. She will also be the oldest American woman to compete in singles skating at the Olympics since 1928.
Bell told The New York Times that her story “is an example of why there should be no expiration date for skaters … especially when they are still having fun.”
But expiring at age 25 is like blowing your load thirty seconds in, and if 25 in the figure skating world is “seasoned” or “mature,” a near 30-year-old geriatric millennial like me would be closer to Methuselah.
Unlike women’s gymnastics, women’s figure skating hasn’t yet gone through its own reckoning to protect its young athletes. Russian skaters—often considered the pinnacle of Olympic skating—have gone so far as to sacrifice their physical and mental health to push the sport forward technically. Between suffering injuries and burning out at rapid speed, the shelf life of women skaters has decreased so much that making it to the Olympics at 25 years old is widely considered some sort of Benjamin Button miracle.
So sadly, sending prepubescent girls to the world’s largest sporting showdown is expected, if not celebrated across internationally renowned skating teams. Along with Bell, U.S. Figure Skating named Alysa Liu, 16, to the Olympic team; she first won the national championship at age 13 in 2019. Isabeau Levito, who just finished in third place at the Championship, is only 14 years old—so young that she’s ineligible for the 2022 Olympics. In Beijing, Bell will be competing against Russia’s top three teenagers who have all mastered the feared quadruple jump, one of which is a figure skating record-breaker at just 15 years old.
The 25-year-old Bell, however, hasn’t defied gravity. She’s an athlete properly nourishing, recovering, and taking care of her body, not pushed to the gates of burnout hell as her fellow competitors. That said, being a twenty-something is a pathetic target for progression in figure skating. I’m looking forward to seeing how U.S. Figure Skating plans to protect its women athletes so that they aren’t banished to Dancing With the Stars or guest roles on Disney Channel shows once their sporting career ends, just one quarter of their way into adulthood.