Alysa Liu makes history but wants to make more

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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.

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Diana Taurasi says 2024 Paris Olympics ‘on my radar’

Diana Taurasi
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Diana Taurasi said immediately after winning her fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo that she might try for a record sixth in Paris.

It’s still on her mind 17 months out of the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“It’s something that it’s on my radar,” Taurasi told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday after the first day of a USA Basketball training camp in Minnesota, her first national team activity since Tokyo. “I’m still competitive, still driven, still want to play, I still love being a part of USA Basketball.”

Taurasi will be 42 at the time of the Paris Games — older than any previous Olympic basketball player — but said if she’s healthy enough she’d like to give it a go.

“If the opportunity comes to play and be a part of it, it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” said Taurasi, who shares the record of five Olympic basketball gold medals with the retired Sue Bird. “When you get to my age at this point in my career, you just try to win every day. Right now this is a good opportunity to be part of this team moving forward we’ll see what happens.”

She said she would have played at the FIBA World Cup last year in Australia, but had a quad strain that kept her out of the end of the WNBA season.

“I got hurt a little bit before. I had a good conversation with Coach (Cheryl) Reeve and (USA Basketball CEO Jim) Tooley. I felt like I hadn’t played enough basketball to be out there and help,” Taurasi said. “That’s the biggest thing with USA Basketball is being able to help the team win.”

Reeve said Monday that when she succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach a few months after Tokyo, she wasn’t sure whether Taurasi would play for the national team again. That was before her conversation with Taurasi.

“I look forward to having a chance to have her be around and be, as I told her, a great voice,” Reeve said. “Obviously, the competitive fire that she competes with is something that we all do well with.”

In Tokyo, Taurasi started all six games and averaged 18.8 minutes per game, sixth-most on the team (fewer than backup guard Chelsea Gray). Her 5.8 points per game were her fewest in her Olympic career, though she was dealing with a hip injury.

Taurasi is an unrestricted free agent although she is expected to return back to Phoenix where she’s spent her entire career since getting drafted No. 1 overall in 2003.

“Phoenix still has things they need to work out,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said.

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Alexis Pinturault wins world championships combined; American in fourth

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France’s Alexis Pinturault won the world Alpine skiing championships combined at his home venue after defending world champion Marco Schwarz blew a lead in the final seconds of his slalom run.

Pinturault, a 31-year-old who hadn’t won a race in nearly two years (the longest drought of his distinguished career), prevailed by one tenth of a second over the Austrian Schwarz in Courchevel, France.

“I hope to enjoy it because it was pretty difficult some months ago,” Pinturault said.

Austrian Raphael Haaser took bronze in an event that combined times from a morning super-G run and an afternoon slalom run, one day after his older sister took bronze in the women’s combined.

River Radamus was fourth, a quarter of a second from becoming the first U.S. man to win an Alpine worlds medal since 2015. Radamus’ best event is the giant slalom, which is scheduled for Feb. 17 at worlds.

“It’s nice, but honestly, you don’t come to world championships hoping to get fourth,” Radamus said.

Five skiers finished within 2.98 seconds of the winner in an event that has been dropped from the annual World Cup schedule and is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Pinturault had the fastest super-G run by six hundredths over Schwarz. Schwarz, a slightly better slalom skier than Pinturault, erased that deficit early in the slalom and had a three tenths lead at the last intermediate split.

He gave it all away about six gates from the finish, slamming on the brakes. Moments later, he crossed the finish line one tenth behind Pinturault, who reacted by pumping his fists in the air.

The Frenchman earned his first race victory since the March 2021 World Cup Finals giant slalom, where he clinched his first World Cup overall title, the biggest annual prize in ski racing. Last season, Pinturault went winless on the World Cup for the first time since he was a teenage rookie in 2011, plus went medal-less at the Olympics.

Pinturault, who grew up in Courchevel and now co-owns the family’s five-star Hotel Annapurna there, had retirement cross his mind in the offseason, according to Eurosport. He skipped a pre-worlds Sunday press conference due to illness.

Nonetheless, Pinturault was on the front page of French newspapers this week, including L’Equipe on Tuesday. In a sports cover story for Le Figaro, Pinturault said that, given the circumstances, it would be almost a “nice surprise” to go for a medal at these worlds.

Olympic champion Johannes Strolz of Austria skied out of the slalom after tying for 29th in the super-G.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Aleksander Aamodt Kilde of Norway and Jack Crawford of Canada were among the speed specialists who did not start the slalom. They essentially used the event as a training run for Thursday’s super-G.

Worlds continue Wednesday with the women’s super-G, where Mikaela Shiffrin is a medal contender but not the favorite. She can tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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