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.
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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