Alysa Liu makes history as youngest U.S. figure skating champion

13-year-old becomes first American to land two clean triple axels

By Sanjeev Palar

Alysa Liu got what she came for.

The 13-year-old earned a total score of 217.51 to beat out defending champion Bradie Tennell (213.59) and Mariah Bell (212.40) to become the youngest U.S. women's figure skating champion, a record previously held by Tara Lipinski.

She is also the only American woman to land three triple axels in a single competition, including two in Friday evening's free skate.

“It didn’t sink all in yet,” Liu said after. “I just wanted just beat my best score and do a clean program.”

The newly-crowned champion couldn't help but remind us all that she was still only a teenager.

“I like to ride my bike a lot,” she shared with Detroit Free Press after winning the title.

“I either play video games or I go to the park and ride my bike with them or play tag.”

Despite being only 4-foot-7, Liu skated like a giant.

“She definitely wants to be the youngest champion of the U.S. nationals – that’s in the back of her head. She really, really wants it,” coach Laura Lipetsky said after the short program.

Liu’s done exactly that and will leave Detroit having made history – twice.

Alysa Liu competes during the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Impressive performance

In the short program, Liu impressed as she became just the third U.S. woman to execute a triple axel at the Championships.

Her performance – set to ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’ by Barbara Streisand – rose to meet the pre-meet hype.

“I was really happy because I did everything I wanted to do,” Liu said, tears of joy and relief streaming down her face. “I wasn’t really nervous. I was just really excited to compete here.”

She delivered again in the free skate, as she maintained her focus and ticked off each difficult element in her impressive technical arsenal.

“I still have every single other jump in my program,” she said of her mindset after huge crowd roars rang out following her second clean triple axel.

And every single jump was done successfully. When the scores came up – a 143.62 for the free - her eyes welled with tears before she covered her face with both hands.

“I was happy with my score,” she said. “I was just happy that I beat my personal record.”

Silver and bronze, neck and neck

Tennell was first of the top three skaters to perform but a fall on her triple Lutz kept her from defending her title. Her 136.99 was the fourth best score in the free skate.

“Today was not my day,” she said. “What we do out there is really hard and we are only human.”

Bell also showed her humanity, falling on a Lutz like Tennell. She recovered well to earn a 142.10, the second highest score in the free program, and win the bronze medal. Just 1.19 separating the two overall.

“It wasn’t my best performance. I, obviously, had one large mistake there,” Bell said.

Though she's already turned her thoughts to what lies ahead: "This is sort of our future," Bell said, looking at Liu to her right. "We are showing that we have a really strong field of ladies, both experience and up and coming."

Ting rebounds

Coming into Detroit, first-year senior competitor Ting Cui was considered an underdog with a chance at the title. But a disastrous short program that included falls on two triple jumps and no combination left her in 12th place.

The free skate was a different story.

Her spellbinding program included seven clean triple jumps and earned a score of 139.66. She ended up third in the free and fifth overall.

“I was just so happy and I was so relieved because I was so disappointed after the short program,” Cui said afterwards.

Adding, “I honestly just got a little mad at myself after last night. So going into the long program today, I was so focused into each jump, making sure I hit those landings.”

U.S. Figure Skating Championships (L-R): runner-up Bradie Tennell, winner Alysa Liu, third-placed Mariah Bell and fourth-placed Hanna Harrell

Patience is key

Liu's phenomenal result has pushed her into the limelight. However, her birthday of August 8 2005, makes her five weeks too young for the July 1 cutoff for this year's junior World Championships.

And that rolls on into her senior career, forcing her to sit out the 2020 and 2021 world championships.

She'll first be eligible to skate at the Olympic Games in 2022 before being allowed to compete at a world championship.

But that bodes well for the young talent according to her coach.

"We look at the positive of trying to grow as a skater: Trying to improve her speed, her skating skills, her maturity on the ice" -  Laura Lipetsky to Detroit Free Press

Alysa Liu at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Michigan

Liu has left her mark at the nationals by becoming the youngest female skater in history to land the triple axel, the toughest triple jump there is.

But to take on the world she needs more.

And she's already hard at work at perfecting her quadruple jumps to add to her jumping arsenal.

"That’s what we’re aiming for, before we even compete with the Russians, trying to have the material, the goods, to compete against them." Lipetsky adds.

While Liu might have to bide her time to skate for a major title. When she does, it could be explosive.


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