SAITAMA, JAPAN (REUTERS) - The International Skating Union (ISU) on Friday (March 22) cleared Mariah Bell of causing intentional harm after the American was accused of colliding into 16-year-old South Korean rival Lim Eun-soo in the final warm-up session ahead of the world championships in Japan.
Korean officials protested following Wednesday’s incident, in which Lim’s management agency alleged Bell kicked their skater, causing a cut to her leg, while limbering up for the women’s short programme.
The ISU said the incident was “verbally reported” to the ISU by the Korean team leader but it had received no formal complaint. And the ruling body has decided that no action was necessary.
“Based on the evidence at hand at this point in time, which includes a video, there is no evidence that Ms Bell intended any harm to Ms Lim,” the ISU said in a statement.
“The ISU met with delegates from both USA and Korea and urged both parties to find an amicable solution. The ISU maintains that this remains the appropriate approach.”
Video of the coming together quickly surfaced on social media, appearing to show Bell approach Lim from behind at the edge of the ice rink with her leg outstretched before gliding past.
The 16-year-old Lim was pictured grimacing in pain before being patched up and returning to the ice to finish fifth in the short skate, one place ahead of Bell.
A Korea Skating Union (KSU) official said on Friday that Bell had expressed her lack of intent to harm and offered an apology, adding that the two skaters could meet sometime, before or after the free skate part of the competition, for Bell to say sorry in person.
The KSU said Lim’s management agency All That Sports had informed them on Thursday that they suspected the incident was “intentional” and that Lim intended to file a formal complaint, a message they conveyed to the ISU.
When asked for comment on Bell’s apology on Friday, All That Sports said they were unable to until they had checked with their official on site.
Rink collisions in practice and warm-ups are far from uncommon.
Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu once performed with a bandage on his face after coming into contact with another skater, while French pairs skater Vanessa James fell after colliding with an Italian competitor during their warm-up on Wednesday.
James, who with Morgan Cipres had been favoured for gold coming into the world championships, later said the collision had rattled her and suggested it might have contributed to her falling during their short programme, an error that kept them off the podium.
The latest incident stirred memories of the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan affair in the 1990s.
American Harding became notorious after her ex-husband was involved in an outright assault on her compatriot and rival Kerrigan just weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympics, an affair fictionalised on screen in the 2017 movie “I, Tonya”.
Memories of that incident perhaps contributed to the social media frenzy surrounding Thursday’s collision and there were calls for calm ahead of Friday’s crucial free skate.
“It would be smart from all of us to let them BOTH focus on their competition and stop harassing them,” said French figure skater Mae-Berenice Meite.
“And let the competent authorities do the job they need to do, in their own time.”