Mariah Bell and Eun-soo Lim Captured The Public Consciousness

The 2019 World Figure Skating Championships was plagued with scandal and superfluous melodrama. The public spotlight was not placed on figure skating, but rather an accident that occurred during a practice session. When US figure skater Mariah Bell slashed South Korean Eun-soo Lim's leg, she unintentionally triggered an international scandal, while reporters quickly delivered juicy headlines that told tales of jealousy, bullying, and racism. Despite the incident being resolved, the story firmly grabbed the public's attention, while sensationalism reached an all-time high.

During practices and warm-up sessions, it is typical to have an accident occur between two or more skaters. While everyone has the same technical elements, like jumping passes and footwork sequences, individual skaters follow different choreography and program formats. Rules are usually placed in order to lessen the probability of accidents, such as no backward spirals and spinning in corners of the rink.

When Mariah Bell cut Eun-soo Lim's leg, Bell was performing a run-through of her program, with her music playing. When a skater's music is being played throughout the rink, they have the right of way, meaning that all other skaters who are practicing on the same ice will have to be aware of their movements and not to cross paths. People were quick to comment on the now-infamous video of Bell slashing Lim, saying how incriminating it was for Bell to be so close to Lim and not even turning around to see what happened. However, Bell was practicing for the World Championships. Her focus would be on her program, rather than her environment.

A peculiar part of the story was Rafael Arutyunyan, the coach who trains both Bell and Lim. Arutyunyan did little to nothing when media outlets were sensationalizing the slashing incident. Although his roster of students was also competing in the World Championships, the coach did not release a statement or accept an interview by journalists. Adding more speculation to the event, when Eun-soo Lim left the ice after performing her long program, Arutyunyan coldly handed Lim her skate guards, without making eye contact or even speaking his usual words of improvement. This behavior was bewildering as if to suggest that the coach was frustrated with Lim for being the center of an international scandal.

The incident was resolved, as Bell was not charged with any punishment or fine. The skaters met up a few hours before the Senior Ladies' Long Program event and exchanged good wishes. Despite this outcome, news outlets deemed the incident "Tonya 2.0", in reference to the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding knee-bashing scandal.

The sport of figure skating is beautifully complex, with various inner-workings that are subjectively intriguing. However, due to the superficial nature of the sport, like the usage of music and donning of glamorous costumes, the general belief is that figure skating is frivolous and dependent on soap-opera-level drama. This is exemplified in how the public reacted to a small accident between two figure skaters. The press released clickbait articles and videos, catalyzing an international outrage. Despite of the historic events that took place at the competition (Nathan Chen became the first US man to win back-to-back world titles since Scott Hamilton in 1984; Elizabeth Tursynbayeva became the first female skater to land a quadruple jump in senior-level competition, for instance) the major focus of the competition was the so-called ongoing feud between Bell and Lim. Ironically, the skaters placed 9th and 10th respectively.

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