Two-time U.S. champ Alysa Liu is fourth in virtual event; Calalang/Johnson surprise in pairs

Nathan Chen was a runaway winner in the men’s, while Mariah Bell and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue captured their disciplines in the International Selection Pool.

By Nick McCarvel

Two-time and reigning U.S. figure skating champion Alysa Liu, 15, has finished fourth in a virtual-only event organized by the country’s skating federation.

The International Selection Pool, serving as a replacement and score-qualifying event in lieu of the regional and sectional events normally held this time of year, allowed skaters to submit taped videos of their programs in a one-month period, giving skaters the opportunity to skate twice if they so chose.

Mariah Bell, who finished second behind Liu earlier this year at the U.S. Championships, won the women's event, with PyeongChang 2018 team bronze medallist Bradie Tennell finishing second.

Amber Glenn placed third, while Liu barely edged out 2017 U.S. champ and Olympian Karen Chen.

Victory for Chen, Hubbell/Donohue and Calalang/Johnson

Two-time and reigning world champion Nathan Chen, who submitted his programs last week, stayed atop the men’s podium, with some 47 points between him and second-place finisher Jason Brown (315.32 to 268.31), the Sochi 2014 team bronze medallist.

Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who have had a strong rise over the last year, emerged the surprise victors in the pairs field. The Southern California-based team placed second at nationals this year and now have their first big win against domestic foes, scoring a 215.66.

That distanced them from Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Brandon Frazier, their training partners in Irvine, Calif. The new duo, who linked up just a few months ago, scored a 200,75 for second place. Former U.S. champs Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc were third, while Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, also former U.S. winners, were fourth.

2018 Olympians Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue won the ice dance event with a 206.51, beating second-place team Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker at 195.70.

Reigning U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates sat out the competition due to a minor injury.

Liu lacking big jumps in new programs

Liu, who made headlines in June when she switched coaches from her childhood mentor of Laura Lipetsky to a more international team headed by Olympic ice dancer Massimo Scali in California’s Bay Area, has gone through a growth spurt in the recent past, now standing 5-feet tall (152cm) having recently been as short as 4-foot-7 (139cm).

Such a height change can technically impact jumps, the very things that have helped make Liu the youngest U.S. winner in history and a skater who regularly performed triple Axels and quadruple jumps in competition.

In her short program, Liu opted for a triple Lutz, a double Axel and triple flip-triple toe combination, landing each, though the toe appeared to be under-rotated.

In her free skate, she attempted a triple Axel to open the program, but fell on the jump. She stayed upright in the remainder of the four-minute skate, which was choreographed by well-known choreographer Lori Nichol via video calls from Toronto.

Liu performed a triple Lutz-triple toe combination midway through her program, as well as a triple flip-Euler-triple Salchow combination.

Liu is still too young for senior international competition this season, meaning that the onus to get the U.S. three Olympic spots for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games could fall to Bell and Tennell, who have developed a domestic rivalry over the last two seasons at the senior international level.

All three women will square off at the U.S. Championships in San Jose this January.

A whole host of U.S. skaters, including world bronze medallist Vincent Zhou, who sat the virtual event out, as well as Chen, Bell, Tennell and more are set to compete at Skate America, 23-25 October, the first stop on a Grand Prix Series that is limiting skaters to national/regional events and only one stop instead of the traditional two.

The event, held behind closed doors, will take place in Las Vegas with strict COVID-19 safety protocols in place. You can see a full schedule of the Grand Prix and which skaters will compete in this article.