Alysa Liu repeated as U.S. figure skating champion, continuing her build toward the 2022 Beijing Olympics by becoming the first woman to land a quadruple jump (albeit under-rotated) at the national championships.
Liu, who last year became the youngest U.S. champion in history at 13, rallied from a short-program deficit to distance Mariah Bell by 10.31 points in Greensboro, N.C. Liu became the first repeat women’s champion since Ashley Wagner in 2013, performing under pressure as the last skater going after Bell brought the house down.
“I was like, wow,” Liu said of Bell. “I was kind of clapping along with the crowd. I guess I was kind of inspired by her emotion and her happiness. I guess that inspired me at the end of my program to relax and be happy and just kind of be aware of the moment.”
Bradie Tennell, the short-program leader, dropped to third after falling on a triple loop.
The night’s emotional moment occurred two hours earlier. Gracie Gold, in her first nationals in three years, was brought to tears after coming back from an eating disorder, depression and anxiety.
“The full arena pulling for my existence, like, on the ice,” said Gold, who finished 12th, lacking the most difficult jumping combinations but determined to continue next season. “I want everything now when I demand it, but I have to remind myself of that it is a progression. And next, we just kind of keep the train going.”
More on Gold’s night here.
Nationals continue Saturday with the pairs’ free skate, free dance and the men’s short program, live on NBC Sports.
NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results
Liu nailed a pair of triple Axels — as she did last year — and (barely) an under-rotated quad Lutz in her free skate. No other active U.S. senior woman has landed either of those jumps in competition. At least one is necessary to contend with the world’s best — Russians competing at the European Championships this week.
Liu is too young to compete on the senior international level until the 2022 Olympic season. She ranks third in the world among junior skaters this season, behind two Russians, going into March’s junior world championships.
Bell, the oldest skater in the last group at 23, had her best nationals result after bronze medals in 2017 and 2019. She skated clean with seven triple jumps, much to the delight of her coaches at rink level — Rafael Arutunian and Olympian Adam Rippon.
Tennell, who couldn’t bend one of her arms on Wednesday, fell on the last of her 10 jumps in the free skate, a triple loop.
For the second straight year, Tennell topped the nationals short program, fell in the free skate and dropped down the podium. Stunning given Tennell broke through in the 2017-18 season as the only elite international skater without a fall going into the Olympics.
Bell and Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, will likely make up March’s senior world team for a second straight year. A U.S. Figure Skating committee makes that decision.
Earlier, Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped the rhythm dance with 87.63 points, taking a 1.32-point lead over two-time defending champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue going into Saturday’s free dance. They could become the first U.S. skater, couple or pair to go five years between national titles in many decades.
Chock and Bates came out of the Sochi Olympics as the top U.S. couple, succeeding Meryl Davis and Charlie White. But they fell behind both Hubbell and Donohue and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani going into the PyeongChang Olympics.
After that, Chock underwent ankle surgery. The couple moved from Michigan to Montreal. They now train with Hubbell and Donohue and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.
“We’re just finding our groove right now,” Bates said. “It feels like we’re just having a bit of a renaissance with our career.”
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