Mariah Bell could come away with her first gold medal at the ninth time of asking at the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
However, the 25-year-old, who first competed at championship level in the tournament in 2014, will need to follow up her impressive opening performance with another strong showing on Friday to ensure she tops the podium.
Bell scored 75.55 points in the women's short program at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee on Thursday and will look to hold off the other top challengers at the event in Friday's free skate.
That won't be the only action on the ice on Friday, as the championship-level ice dancers will compete in the rhythm dance competition.
Here's a look at the TV schedule for the remainder of this year's championships, followed by more on Friday's events.
Friday, Jan. 7
Rhythm Dance, 4-6 p.m. ET, USA Network
Women's Free, 8-11 p.m. ET, NBC
Saturday, Jan. 8
Men's Short, 4-6 p.m. ET, NBC
Pairs Free and Free Dance, 7-10 p.m. ET, USA Network
Sunday, Jan. 9
Men's Free, 2-4 p.m. ET, NBC
Friday Preview, Predictions
Bell may have the lead in the women's competition after a strong showing in the short program, but her advantage at the top of the standings is narrow. And there are several fellow talented figure skaters who will be looking to overtake her on Friday.
Bell scored 75.55 points in the short program, which gave her a lead over Karen Chen (74.55) and Alysa Liu (71.42). Isabeau Levito (71) and Lindsay Thorngren (70.22) are also close behind and could push their ways into the top three.
It wasn't a huge surprise to see Bell get off to a strong start at the championships. She's had some success at the event in the past, winning the bronze medal in 2017 and 2019 before claiming silver in 2020.
However, the Tulsa, Oklahoma native ended up in fifth in 2021, and there was no guarantee she could get back on the medal stand this year. But she put herself in a great position to do so with her short-program performance, which marked the first time she's finished first in that portion of the competition.
"I've been in every position possible going into the long program, and the objective is always the same," Bell said, via a press release from U.S. Figure Skating. "I wouldn’t want to skate any worse or any better if I was lower or higher. I just want to do the best long that I can. But I feel like I have good confidence going into the free."
Chen isn't too far back in the standings, though, and the 22-year-old knows what it takes to excel on this stage. She captured the gold medal in 2017, and she's taken home the bronze three times, including in 2021.
Liu may not have had her best showing on Thursday, as her short program featured a fall on her opening triple axel. But the 16-year-old got back on track, finished strong and put herself in a position to contend for her third gold medal in four years.
Can Bell now hold off Chen and Liu, or will one of the former champions prevent her from winning the gold for the first time?
The prediction here is that Chen will end up taking the gold for the second time. Her 74.55 score in the short program was a personal best, and the free skate was her better portion last year. If she performs at her best, she should pass Bell, who will likely take home the silver by finishing ahead of Liu.
Liu may have been the favorite heading into the event, but she didn't look her best on Thursday. So while she'll capture the bronze, she won't score enough points to overtake Chen and Bell.
As for the rhythm dance competition on Friday, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are the duo to watch. They've won the gold medal in three of the past four years, including 2021, and they should get off to a strong start again this year.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates have won a gold and four silvers over the past six years in ice dance, so they should also perform well again this year. But expect Hubbell and Donohue to be atop the leaderboard after Friday.