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US skater Mariah Bell accused of intentionally slashing rival with her skate

The international skating union found “no evidence” against Bell, but the accusation has evoked memories of the Tonya Harding scandal.
/ Source: TODAY

An incident during the World Figure Skating Championships is bringing back memories of a scandal that roiled the sport for decades.

American figure skater Mariah Bell is being accused of deliberating cutting the leg of her South Korean competitor, Lim Eun-soo, during a warmup practice Wednesday night in the World Championships in Japan.

Bell, 22, was in the middle of a practice session for her short program when she clearly clipped the 16-year-old, according to video shot from the stands and obtained by NBC News. Lim can be seen in pain as she reaches down to grab her leg.

The head of the South Korean skating team leveled its explosive accusation against Bell soon afterward. But the International Skating Union rejected the claim, saying it found no evidence Bell intended any harm to Lim.

The union urged an amicable solution, but the accusation quickly prompted comparisons to what happened between American skating rivals Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.

Skating scandal
Mariah Bell Getty Images
Skating scandal
Lim Eun-soo Getty Images

Harding’s ex-husband orchestrated a 1994 attack in which he hired someone to club Kerrigan's leg with a pipe.

Harding was stripped of her U.S. championship title and a World silver medal. She also was banned for life by the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

Decades later, the circumstances around the event were turned into a movie.

This week, however, Bell may be feeling the impact of that legacy as she deals with accusations that she targeted Lim. In a Korean news article, Lim's agency called the incident premeditated and said Bell had been bullying Lim for months.

U.S. Olympic skater Adam Rippon called the article “click bait” and jumped to Bell's defense. “I've been to the rink multiple times and NO ONE has been bullying anyone,” he wrote in a tweet. “What happened in the warm up was an accident. Don’t distract both Eunsoo and Mariah from the competition.”

In another tweet, Rippon said the two skaters are on the ice the same time every day and “share the same locker room that I also sit in.”

Although the women compete for different countries, they share the same trainer.

Neither skater has returned NBC's request for comment.

Lim competed later in the day, a Band-Aid on her leg, and went on to earn her personal best score. She placed fifth, while Bell finished sixth.

U.S. Figure Skating released a statement overnight about the competition, which runs through Sunday. It reads, “The athletes met this morning and good luck wishes were exchanged. Mariah is looking forward to competing tonight in the ladies free skate.”