Olympic-sized pressure on Alysa Liu in her first senior season?
No problem, the American says.
The 16-year-old Liu, a two-time national figure skating champion in the U.S., secured a third spot at the coming Olympic Games Beijing 2022 for the American women with a triumph at the Nebelhorn Trophy ISU Challenger event in Oberstdorf, Germany on Saturday (25 September).
Liu popped her opening triple Axel attempt in her free skate, but didn't let that impact the rest of an impressive, mature performance. She earned a 136.54 to win the long program and the event overall, scoring a 207.40 total.
Nebelhorn Trophy is being used as the final Olympic qualifier for figure skating, with quota spots - positions qualified for each country, not individual skaters - up for grabs across all four disciplines. Six said spots were up for grabs in women's singles.
Ekaterina Kurakova of Poland (193.58) and Victoriia Safonova of Belarus (190.29) went 2-3 to help their countries earn Beijing berths, while Alexia Paganini (Switzerland); Anastasiia Shabotova (Ukraine); and Kailani Craine (Australia) also earned quota spots for their respective nations.
"I really wanted to go for my triple Axel this competition," said Liu after her skate. "Next time I will try it and land it. ... But I'm pretty happy about (the result). My spins felt good."
Said Liu about confirming the third U.S. spot: "It means a lot. I'm pretty excited. I actually completely forgot about that ... It's pretty crazy actually. It's great that I could do something to help the U.S."
In ice dance, duos from four countries secured Olympic spots with Armenia, the Czech Republic, Finland and Georgia each finishing within the top five. A second-place German team had no impact on Beijing qualifying. Read more about dance below.
Emotions run high for Kurakova, Craine
Liu skated last in the final women's group, her "Violin Concerto" free skate opening with that aforementioned popped triple Axel attempt, but she didn't let that blip impact her, continuing with mature, focused skating. Liu would hit a triple Lutz, triple loop, double Axel-euler-triple loop combination, triple Lutz-triple toe combo, triple flip-double toe combo and triple flip to help her win the free skate going away.
She'll be in contention not only for one of the three U.S. spots for Beijing, but also for her third national title, having placed fourth at U.S. Championships last season.
Emotions ran high for second-place finisher Kurakova, who was brilliant in her Charlie Chaplin-themed free skate, which she performed with committed emotion and power. When her scores came up - second only to Liu in the free - she celebrated in the "kiss and cry", hugging her coach and realising her achievement.
She said after: "It's amazing - when I say 'Olympic Games,' it's like whoah! I'm like, 'Yes, I did it, thank you.' I think the long road, which I did... I couldn't understand why I had this (hard) experience, but now I do. I pushed hard. I'm so grateful for what happened today."
While Kurakova brought a near-personal best to the free skate, Craine struggled through hers, squeaking out a qualifying position by less than a point.
"I thought I lost it for sure... that was such a bad skate," said Craine, a 2018 Olympian. "I really tried to get myself together as best I could. It was different today; I felt calmer, but I was a bit tight with my legs, too tight. It was a fight out there today."
She added, through tears: "I called my mum (after) and she was like, 'It's OK, don't worry!' I had to explain to her (that I qualified). It's crazy... I guess the decisions that I made in the short really made a difference."
More Beijing joy: Paganini, Safonova, Shabotova rejoice
While skaters won't individually be named to Olympic teams until December and January - that's done by national governing bodies independently - the elation was pure for the skaters who did help qualify quota spots, including for Switzerland's Paganini, who could be headed to her second Games.
"My goal here wasn't to medal, it was to collect as many points as possible and get that Olympic spot," she said. "There's a lot of things that I can work on and improve. ... I'm happy that I was able to (qualify the spot), but obviously I would have liked to do the best free that I could."
While Paganini was fifth in the free, Safonova finished third, the Belarusian national champ looking to get to her first Games.
"I felt strong; I felt like I competed well... but I have a lot to work on," said the 18-year-old via an interpreter. "I'm very happy about (qualifying the spot). ... I have to compete very well (this season)."
Added Shabotova, the Ukrainian, who was fourth in the free skate: “I am happy with how I focused and in general did all the jumps, but didn’t skate the program 100 percent. That’s what I am less satisfied with. The most important thing is that I received a slot for the Olympics.”
Ice dance: Turkkila/Versluis skate to victory for Finland
The former singles skaters Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis of Finland are now a step closer to realising their Olympic dreams, the duo sweeping the rhythm and free dances for a win, scoring 181.19 overall.
Maria Kazakova and Georgy Reviya of Georgia were third (173.20); Tina Garabedian and Simon Proulx Senecal of Armenia fourth (173.03); and Natalie Taschlerova and Flip Taschler of the Czech Republic fifth (172.98) to secure their quota spots.
The second-place team of Katharina Mueller and Tim Dieck of Germany were not skating for an Olympic spot, as Germany earned one at worlds and was not eligible to add a second.
Full results can be seen here.