AP

Alysa Liu makes history but wants to make more

Leave a comment

DETROIT — Twenty-five seconds into her short program Thursday, Alysa Liu made history.

She was the first woman to land a triple Axel in the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Not bad for a 13-year-old making her senior debut at nationals.

And not enough for Liu. She wants to make more.

“She definitely wants to be the youngest champion,” said her coach, Laura Lipetsky. “That’s in the back of her head.”

It won’t be easy. Liu, second after the short program, likely will need another historic performance to overcome reigning champion Bradie Tennell, who takes a 2.71-point lead into Friday’s free skate.

But one would not be wise to discount the possibility of Liu pulling it off.

After all, this is a young woman who replied to a question of whether she was confident about landing her triple Axel with a matter-of-fact, “Yeah.”

She was the third woman in U.S. history to hit one cleanly at nationals, following Tonya Harding (1991) and Kimmie Meissner (2005.)

In Friday’s free skate, Liu will try to become the first to land two in a program.

No wonder she is being talked about as the future of women’s skating in the United States, no matter that Liu will be too young to compete in senior international events for two seasons after this.

“I’ve only heard a few people say that, so I don’t think about it,” she said. “I don’t feel too much pressure.”

She seemed utterly nonplussed about moving into the big time, smiling broadly as she glided across the rink before the short program.  Liu nearly managed to pull off a flawless program, with an under-rotation on the second jump of the triple-triple combination the only error.

“I was a little bit nervous,” she admitted.

The magnitude of the moment finally hit the 4-foot, 7-inch Liu when it was over.

With the crowd standing to applaud her, Liu burst into tears. She broke down again 20 minutes later while describing the moment to the media.

“I was really happy because I did everything I wanted to,” Liu said.

And that gave her a chance to replace 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski as the youngest woman to win nationals. Lipinski was 14 when she became U.S. champion in 1997.

Liu, a ninth grader from Richmond, Calif., has not let her youth deter her ambition to do such things.

“I hope to win, obviously,” Liu told me in December. “I’d never go into a competition hoping I medal. I always strive for first, even if it’s not possible.”

Lipetsky, who has coached Liu since she began skating at age 5, tries to temper but not dismiss Liu’s hopes for glory.

“We’ve told her she can’t control the results, she can only control doing her job,” Lipetsky said. “Wherever the scoring falls, it falls. We just want her to do two great programs and enjoy the experience.”

The first part of the experience made Liu cry.

And she couldn’t have been happier.

MORE: Alysa Liu with a “real chance” to win gold

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Maria Sharapova wraps up tennis career after nearly two decades, career Slam

Maria Sharapova
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Maria Sharapova has announced her retirement after a professional tennis career that includes five Grand Slam wins, 36 singles titles and an Olympic silver medal.

Sharapova was only 17 when she won her first major in 2004 at Wimbledon. She won the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008 before completing her career Grand Slam in the 2012 French Open. She won the French Open again in 2014.

After moving from Russia to Florida at age 9 to train at the Bollettieri Academy, she made her professional debut just after her 14th birthday in 2001. She graduated to top-level events and majors within two years and reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2003.

In 2004, she upset Lindsay Davenport and Serena Williams at Wimbledon and beat Williams again at the Tour Championships.

By 2005, the 6-foot-2 player had claimed the top spot in the world rankings. She remained in the top five for most of the next four years before suffering an injury to her right shoulder that limited her tournament schedule in 2008 and 2009. By 2011, she had reclaimed her status as a top-five player and remained there until 2016.

Her career declined after a positive drug test at the 2016 Australian Open. The substance in question, meldonium, had been given by Russian doctors to many athletes.

An initial suspension of two years was reduced to 15 months, but she wasn’t able to get back to her previous form. She won one more tournament in 2017 and reached the quarterfinals of the 2018 French Open, but she fared poorly in sporadic appearances in 2019. Her last match was a loss to Donna Vekic in the first round of the Australian Open in January.

SEE: Sharapova discusses reduced ban on TODAY

Her meldonium suspension also cost her commercial sponsorships and her role as a UN Development Program ambassador, which she earned with her work to help survivors of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

She was involved in the Olympics as a silver medalist in 2012, losing to Williams in the final, and as one of the final torch bearers in the relay to the 2014 Olympics opening ceremony in her home country.

She’s also third on the all-time WTA earnings list behind Serena and Venus Williams, taking in more than $38m in her career on top of lucrative endorsement deals.

Federica Brignone hopes World Cup rival Mikaela Shiffrin will return soon

Shiffrin and Brignone
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mikaela Shiffrin‘s prolonged absence from the World Cup Alpine skiing circuit has opened the door for Italy’s Federica Brignone to break the American’s grip on the season title, but Brignone hopes her friend and rival will be back in competition soon.

“I really do hope that she will return soon for herself so she can do again what she loves most,” Brignone said.

Brignone took the season lead from Shiffrin, who has won the last three World Cup overall titles, on Sunday and has a 73-point advantage with 11 of the season’s 40 races remaining. She also leads Shiffrin by 74 points in the giant slalom standings.

READ: Brignone moves into World Cup lead

No Italian woman has won the overall World Cup. Brignone was fifth in 2017 and won the Alpine combined discipline title last season.

Brignone will have a chance to clinch another Alpine combined discipline title and extend her overall lead in her home country this weekend. While some other sports events in Italy have been canceled or otherwise affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the host resort of La Thuile has so far been spared from the virus’ spread.

Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova, the only other skier with a realistic chance of winning the overall trophy, is dealing with a knee injury and might not be able to race this weekend. Vhlova leads Shiffrin by 20 points in the slalom standings.

Shiffrin has not competed since the death of her father Feb. 2, and she has not announced plans to return. She was not on pace to match her astounding 17-win 2018-19 season but still had six wins and had reached the podium in 13 of 19 races.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!