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Alysa Liu Is Here For Her Olympic Moment, Not Her Marks

by Lynn Rutherford

Alysa Liu skates during the women single skating short program during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 15, 2022 in Beijing. 

 

BEIJING — Whatever placement Alysa Liu achieves at these Olympic Winter Games, the 16-year-old has made up her mind: she is going to have the time of her young life. 
“I’m really excited, I’m really happy with how I did,” a bubbly Liu said Tuesday, after placing eighth in the figure skating women’s short program at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium. 
“I’m glad I did a clean short program,” she added. “I would also be fine if I didn’t do a clean short program, but I’m glad I did a clean short program.”
The teen from Richmond, California, had a speedy performance to “Gypsy Dance” from the ballet “Don Quixote,” opening with a strong double axel, followed by a triple flip and triple lutz, triple toe loop combination. 
The high points of the program were its final three elements, two fast spins and a musical step sequence, and Liu scored 69.50 points.

 

 


But marks are not uppermost on the skater’s mind. After a stressful few months — including a coaching change, a move to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and a positive COVID-19 test that forced her to withdraw from the 2022 U.S. championships — Liu is accentuating the positive.


“Personally, I thought with COVID and everything, I would just be in my room, but that’s not the case,” she said. “I’m really glad. And there’s a mall (in the Olympic Village), I didn’t know that. So, I’m really just having fun. I get to see my friends and meet new people.”


Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee earned 82.16 points for first place. Her ROC teammate Anna Shcherbakova is second with 80.20, while Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto is third at 79.84. Fellow U.S. skaters Mariah Bell (65.38 points) and Karen Chen (64.11) ranked 11th and 13th, respectively.


The event concludes with the free skate on Thursday.


Liu didn’t try a triple axel, the jump she used to win her U.S. titles in 2019 and 2020, on Tuesday. Six skaters did, but only one (Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi, who sits fifth) landed the three-and-a half revolution jump cleanly. While Liu has tried triple axel this season — her first on the international senior circuit — she has yet to land it with no deductions.


“Hopefully, I will do it in the free skate, I’ve been practicing it in the free program,” she said. “It feels pretty good, I’d say. Obviously, it isn’t perfect, but nothing is ever perfect, so I’ll just go with it.”


These days, triple axels and quadruple jumps are most often associated with Russian skaters, including Valieva, Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, who is fourth after the short program. But Liu is the first woman to ever execute both a triple axel and a quad — in her case, a lutz — in the same program, a feat she accomplished at the Lake Placid Junior Grand Prix in August 2019. She does not plan to try the quad here.


“It was a lot easier when I was smaller, and a lot shorter,” Liu, who now stands about 5 feet, 2 inches, said of the quad. “It’s just been harder. Especially when COVID hit, I couldn’t train it as much. I stopped training it for a period. So, there was a lot of other factors, but definitely puberty (was one factor).”

 

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Beijing 2022? Visit TeamUSA.org/Beijing-2022-Olympic-Games to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.

Mariah Bell skates during the women single skating short program during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 15, 2022 in Beijing.

 

U.S. champion Bell’s spins and steps sparkled in her short program to “River Flows in You,” a piano composition by Korean musician Yiruma. But the U.S. champion fell on the second jump of her opening triple flip, triple toe loop combination, putting her just outside the top 10 heading into the free skate.
Bell hit the combination in her short program at the 2022 U.S. championships last month in Nashville, but it has been hit-and-miss in practices here.
“It’s something that I’ve been working on,” she said. “Flip-toe hasn’t always been my friend, but I really attacked it. It’s something I will go back and watch and review for the long program and we’ll do a great one there, I’m sure.”

 

 


At 25, the vivacious skater from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who trains alongside good friend Nathan Chen in Irvine, California, is the oldest woman to represent Team USA in the women’s singles event since 1928. Having narrowly missed making the U.S. team in 2018, she is now determined to stay in the moment and enjoy herself. 


“I kept reminding myself I was on Olympic ice, and that’s so cool,” she said. “I’m obviously really proud of the rest of the program, bummed about that mistake. I have such mixed feelings about the performance, but overall, I’m really proud of how the end of it went. I can officially say I’m an Olympian, so that’s cool too.”

Karen Chen skates during the women single skating short program during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 15, 2022 in Beijing. 

 

The short program was also a mixed bag for Chen, the 2017 U.S. champion who placed second to Bell in Nashville.
The 22-year-old from Fremont, California, fell on a triple loop, the same jump she missed in her short program for the team event last week.
“My mind is just stuck on that triple loop, and it’s annoying, because I made that mistake in the team event,” Chen said. “In my head, I’m (thinking), ‘I’m going to fix it this time, it’s going to be better,’ and if anything, it was worse. … I need to think about what went wrong and then move on to the long program.”
Triple loop has been a strong jump for Chen over the years. She is surprised it is troubling her so much in Beijing.
“I have yet to really process what went wrong,” she said. “Loop is such a solid jump for me.  I get on the ice (for practice), I do my walleys (single jumps) and then loop is the first (triple) jump I do. I rarely miss it.”

Tuesday’s short program took place in the shadow of a controversy. The 15-year-old Valieva, widely considered the favorite for gold, tested positive for a banned substance, leaving her status for the Games uncertain. The Court of Arbitration of Sport ultimately ruled Valieva could compete earlier this week.
Should Valieva place among the top three in the women’s event, the International Olympic Committee has said there will be no flower ceremony or medal ceremony pending the final resolution of her case. Since Valieva competed for the winning ROC team in the figure skating team event, there will also be no medal ceremony in Beijing for that event. Team USA placed second, with Japan third and Canada fourth.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” said Chen. “I was looking forward to being on the podium with my amazing teammates and sharing that moment. ... It’s upsetting that we won’t have that moment, but I am sure we will find a way to celebrate on our own.”


Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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