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Alysa Liu is the youngest U.S. ladies’ champion ever, defeats Bradie Tennell

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DETROIT – She began by landing the first of her two planned triple Axels to open a combination, followed by a double toe loop.

And then what did Alysa Liu think?

“I still have the second one,” she said.

And she landed the next, so then what did she think?

“I still have every single other jump in the program,” Liu said.

The thought process of not getting ahead of herself was, of course, critical to what Liu did in Friday night’s free skate at the U.S. Championships.

And it has allowed Liu to get ahead of all the expected timelines in U.S. women’s skating.

In her debut at senior nationals, the 13-year-old Liu became the youngest women’s U.S. champion in history.

She also became the first to land two triple Axels in a single program at nationals.

Thursday, she had become the first to land a triple Axel in the short program.

Those signature jumps – and two performances with just one minor error, an under-rotated jump in the short – gave Liu 217.51 points, nearly 4 more than reigning champion Bradie Tennell (213.59), who had won the short program but had a fall and another jump error in the free skate. Mariah Bell, who also fell once, was third at 212.40.

Tennell and Bell almost certainly will get the two women’s places on the U.S. team for the world championships. Liu is too young for even junior worlds this season and can’t compete at senior worlds until 2022.

“I’m not too worried about that,” Liu said. “It gives me more time to work on my spins and skating skills and jumps.”

Results: Ladies’ final

In the free skate, Liu hit eight triple jumps, including two triple-triple combinations.  The only hint of any flaw was a warning for an unclear edge on the takeoff of her triple flip.

“I just wanted to beat my best score and do a clean program, and I did,” Liu said.

Hanna Harrell, 15, was a surprising fourth. Ting Cui, 16, rallied from a disastrous short program to take third in the free skate and fifth overall. Harrell and Cui likely are headed to junior worlds.

MORE: U.S. Championships men’s preview: Nathan Chen’s imminent three-peat

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Justin Morneau nixes Olympic baseball qualifying return

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Justin Morneau, the 2006 AL MVP with the Minnesota Twins, was taken off Canada’s Olympic baseball qualifying roster before he would have played his first competitive game in more than two years.

Morneau, 38, experienced an unspecified setback in training and was replaced on Canada’s roster for next month’s Premier12. The global tournament marks the first opportunity for many world baseball powers to qualify for the sport’s return to the Olympics.

Morneau never played in the Olympics before baseball was cut from the Games after 2008; active MLB players have never competed in the Games. But he was on Canada’s roster at all four World Baseball Classics from 2006 through 2017.

At November’s Premier12, the top nation from North and South America will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Japan and Israel are already qualified. Those that do not qualify will get another chance next year.

Morneau could become the second Major League Baseball MVP to play Olympic baseball as a medal sport. The other was Jason Giambi, who made the U.S. team in 1992, the same summer he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Athletics.

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MORE: Joe Girardi replaced as U.S. baseball manager by World Series champion

Kolohe Andino is first U.S. Olympic surfing qualifier; Kelly Slater faces last chance

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Kolohe Andino is the first American to qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut, which leaves one spot left for 47-year-old Kelly Slater to chase at the final contest of the season.

Andino, a 25-year-old Californian whose first name means “rascal” in Hawaiian, clinched his place in Tokyo on Friday at the penultimate stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour in Portugal. He is ranked fifth in the world, trailing a trio of Brazilians.

One more American man will join Andino on the Olympic team. It will be one of Slater, the 11-time world champion, John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World champion, and rising 22-year-old Hawaiian Seth Moniz.

Slater was handed a golden opportunity to qualify when Florence announced in early July that he tore an ACL for the second time in 13 months. Florence had won two of the first five events this season.

Slater has been chasing the sidelined Florence in the standings ever since. But it has not been easy.

Slater hasn’t made the quarterfinals in any of his last seven contests going into December’s finale — the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said in July, noting a back injury. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, who won the Pipe Masters seven times between 1992 and 2013, must reach the quarterfinals at this year’s event to have any chance of passing Florence to qualify for the Olympics.

Complicating matters: Florence said in August it was his “goal to get better for Pipeline in case I have to come back and compete and gain points,” according to ESPN.com. If Florence does return for the December contest, and makes the quarterfinals, Slater could only pass him with a victory.

Moniz goes into the finale ranked one spot behind Slater, meaning he, too, can grab that second and final Olympic spot with a win or a runner-up.

Slater, who turns 48 on Feb. 11, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, according to the OlyMADMen.

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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