The ladies medalists were crowned at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, and it was quite an exciting fight en route to the title. In the end, it was defending champion Alysa Liu who came out on top in record-breaking form, staving off a career-best effort from silver medalist Mariah Bell, who brought the house down with her inspired performance.

Last to skate in the free, Liu took to the ice while the crowd was still celebrating Bell’s triumphant program. Warming up as the silver medalist’s scores were announced, Liu seemed unphased by Bell’s record-breaking score. If there were any doubts about Liu’s ability to handle the pressure, they were erased when she nailed her opening triple Axel-double toe combination. Her next element, a quad Lutz was deemed under-rotated, but Liu landed eight triple jumps in total, including a second Axel. She was rewarded with a record-breaking tally of 235.52 points.

“I was very happy for her (Bell). I had watched her program because I was right after,” said Liu, 14. “I didn’t get nervous or excited. I was just kind of like, ‘OK, she did well, but I also have to do well.’ My goal was just to do my best. I pay attention to other skaters around the world, and I am aware of a lot of skaters who are doing the really difficult jumps. I’m just trying to keep up and I’m also trying to keep up with the skating skills of all the other skaters around the world.”

Liu’s performance to Dvořak’s “New World Symphony” by Jennifer Thomas showed that she is indeed working hard to improve the second mark. What she lacked in speed and musical connection in comparison to the more seasoned competitors was made up by her enthusiasm for everything she did in her program.

For all that Liu accomplished on the technical side, Bell did it with her artistry. Skating to k.d. lang’s haunting version of “Hallelujah,” the two-time U.S. bronze medalist revealed her soul to the audience and was rewarded with the longest standing ovation of the evening. With tears in her eyes while clutching her pink cheeks, Bell seemed emotionally spent at the end of program as she watched the audience rise to its feet.

While the program is an artistic masterpiece, it was supported by excellent technical content as well. Bell managed six clean triple jumps. A seventh (triple Lutz) was under-rotated, but it was inconsequential in the hearts of all of those who witnessed this breath-taking routine. “It’s a very special feeling. I haven’t had that before in my career,” said the 23-year-old. “The coolest thing about it was how into it the crowd was. They were so loud. I just love that I get to share what I love to do with an audience like that. I feel very fortunate to have had that experience.”

While her coach Rafael Arutyunyan maintained his usual cool, her other coach Adam Rippon, could not contain his excitement as the program came to a close. “Adam’s been such a major part of my success this year,” Bell explained. “He completely changed my outlook on training, and he’s given me so much time and energy when he has a busy schedule himself. He truly loves to come into the rink so to have that moment with him was just so special. I was hoping that something like that would happen because he deserves to have that moment, too. I’m just so happy that we were able to share it together.”

In perhaps any other year, Bell’s score of 225.21 points — the second-best in U.S. Championships history — would have been enough to capture the title.

Leading after the short program, Bradie Tennell faded to third after falling on a triple loop midway through the program. The bronze medalist has been fighting with a recurring elbow injury that flared back up again this week, and admitted that it had taken a toll on her preparations.

Skating to Ennio Morricone’s “Cinema Paradiso,” Tennell attacked her program with the heart of a lion. She opened with an easy triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and landed five clean triples in all. Tennell captured the bronze with 220.86 points in total. “It’s been a really crazy week. This thing with my arm threw me off more than ever before,” said Tennell, 21. “It was more challenging for me to compete here than at the (Grand Prix) Final. I was more nervous for this than I was there. I only just began to feel like myself yesterday afternoon, so even to come out and skate a short like I did and to skate this free even with a couple errors — I’m still really proud of that.”

Karen Chen, the 2017 champion, moved up to finish in fourth place. The Cornell freshman landed three clean triple jumps, but struggled with under-rotation calls on three others. She closed out the competition with 193.85 points. Amber Glenn, fourth after the short program, struggled in the free skate and finished in fifth place (186.58).

Former two-time champion Gracie Gold wound up in 12th place with 161.75 points in her return to competition. Gold only managed four triple jumps, but nonetheless won the hearts of the audience who rose to their feet at the end of her program, bringing Gold to tears. “Really I was just overwhelmed because I was just kind of existing in the moment because I couldn’t exist anywhere else,” she said. “And then the audience reaction — I felt like was very powerful. Of course, I was the one who was within it, so it probably hit differently.”