Alysa Liu taking in Olympic experience with eyes wide open: 'My goal is to stay in the moment'

The American was national champion at age 13, but three years later she helped Team USA secure a third spot at the Olympics - and is soaking in her experience in Beijing. 

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

Three years after Alysa Liu was a national champion at the age 13, the American figure skater is making her Olympic debut.

"My goal here is to stay in the moment and enjoy everything," Liu, 16, said Sunday (13 February) of her experience at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.

"I know that even though I feel like I'm here for a long time, it's going to go by really fast. I'm just trying to take everything. I want to process everything so I have good memories."

Things have moved quickly for Liu, the two-time U.S. champion (in 2019 and 2020) who made her senior international debut this year. After becoming the youngest champion in American history at age 13 in 2019, there were big expectations placed on her shoulders.

A growth spurt during the 2020-21 season - coupled pandemic shutdowns and limited competitions - saw Liu finish fourth at the 2021 U.S. Championships, but the California native never stopped learning at every step of the way.

In September, she qualified the U.S. its third quota position at the Nebelhorn Trophy ISU Challenger event.

A consistent season - in which she made her debut on the senior international circuit - helped her solidify her Olympic berth, something she wanted to do to "honour my childhood dream," she said.

Now she feels like one of the adults in the room because she is: She's made it to the Olympics.

"The village is really fun," a beaming Liu described of the athlete village in Beijing following a practice session. "In the cafeteria is where all the athletes go to eat. People from other sports are there too, so seeing all the other athletes is really cool. Walking around the athlete mall is really fun... especially when you do it with teammates. [On Saturday we] had a watch party for the ice dancers. It's fun hanging out with everyone at the apartment."

Liu looks for strong skates in women's event

Liu had a stellar junior career: In addition to her two U.S. titles, she was the first American woman - junior or senior - to land a quadruple jump, and also the first female skater (again, junior or senior) to land a quad jump and triple Axel in the same program.

While she still jumps the triple Axel, Liu is not expected to compete with a quad here in Beijing. She, along with teammates Mariah Bell and Karen Chen, are each looking for a top 10 finish in women's singles, which gets underway on Tuesday (15 February).

Having previously worked with Jeremy Abbott and Massimo Scali, Liu moved to Colorado in November, announcing a coaching change. Her improvement under Christy Krall, Drew Meekins and Viktor Pfeifer is unclear, however, as she withdrew halfway through January's U.S. Championships due to a positive Covid-19 test. She sat third after the short program there.

She'll need a strong short - triple Axel or not - to contend inside the Capital Indoor Arena. She finished in the top five at both of her Grand Prix events this season, having won three smaller-level events early in the season, including at Nebelhorn.

But as this is just Liu's third major event on the senior international stage, she's approaching things with eyes wide open: She's not only the youngest member of the Team USA 16-member figure skating squad, but the youngest American of the entire US Olympic team in Beijing.

While Liu said she continues to get settled on Olympic ice after arriving after the team event and Opening Ceremony, she is still having those pinch-me moments.

Sixteen and at the Olympics. She's trying to soak it all in.

"When I got to the Olympic village, 'I was like, 'Wait, this is actually real?!'" she said after her arrival here. "I didn't believe it. I knew I had a flight, I knew I was coming here... but once I got here, I was like, 'Oh my gosh this is really real.'"

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