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Alysa Liu is first U.S. woman to land quad, wins Junior Grand Prix debut

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LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Alysa Liu had just become the first U.S. woman to land a quadruple jump – a Lutz, no less — in competition.

But to the 14-year-old Californian, it was just another day at the rink.

“It’s pretty cool,” she said. “I don’t obsess.”

“My triple Lutz, for me it’s easier than all my other triples. Salchow is harder than Lutz. It’s my favorite jump, and it’s the easiest to do.”

Liu made almost all of the elements in her free skate look easy Saturday, earning 138.80 points to scorch the field and win her debut Junior Grand Prix event. Her overall score, 208.10, outpaced silver medalist Park Yeonjeong of South Korea by 21.52.

The victory was the first for a U.S. woman in a Junior Grand Prix since Polina Edmunds in September 2013. It broke a string of 20 straight Junior Grand Prix wins for Russians.

“It’s a good learning experience, the first JGP,” said Liu, who in January became the youngest U.S. champion in history but is too young to compete on the senior international level until the 2022 Olympic season. “It’s my first big competition this season, and I’m just trying to learn from it.”

There was little to improve, jump-wise, on Saturday. After performing a clean short program on Friday (sans quad Lutz or triple Axel), Liu led by 2.07. Her free skate to Jennifer Thomas’ uplifting “New World Symphony,” choreographed by Lori Nichol, opened with a solid triple Axel-double toe loop combination, followed by the quad Lutz.

Although Liu fell on her second triple Axel, she landed two triple-triple combinations and gained top marks on her spins and step sequence.

“I practice my programs, like, a lot, and normally I can do all of the elements in my program,” Liu said. “I think I was too slow [on the second Axel], too hesitant. But normally I can do it.”

Other young women, including Russia’s reigning world junior champion Alexandra Trusova and world silver medalist Elizabet Tursynbayeva of Kazakhstan, perform quads, while others – Japan’s Rika Kihira, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia – compete triple Axels. But only Liu has landed both triple Axel and quad in competition.

“My favorite things to practice are jumps,” Liu said. “My least favorites are – well, I’m not sure what least favorite is. I like all of it, but I like jumps best.”

Liu’s exploits are inspiring other young skaters to up their technical ante.

“It’s very cool what she’s done, now we are all working on quads every day and triple Axels,” Emilia Murdock, seventh in Lake Placid, said. “She has shown that the U.S. ladies can beat the Russians, and we can beat the Japanese and Koreans. We just need to work on motivating each other. Alysa has helped the sport a lot.”

Laura Lipetsky, who has coached Liu since the skater was 5 years old, thinks her skater performs best under pressure. Lipetsky, along with Liu’s father, Arthur, kept the skater busy this week with strolls around Mirror Lake and window shopping along Lake Placid’s Main Street.

“There is a lot of work beforehand, as far as training,” Lipetsky said. “And then we have our own ritual before she gets on the ice. … We laugh a lot; we have a lot of fun. That’s what is important in the sport, working hard but having fun as well.”

Liu’s competition will likely get tougher as the season progresses. Just a single Russian competed in Lake Placid: Anastasia Tarakanova, seventh in Russian juniors last season, took bronze with 179.29 points. Ksenia Sinitsyna, fourth at last season’s junior worlds, was slated to compete but could not travel to the U.S. due to issues with travel documents.

As for Liu, don’t expect her to add another quad to her programs any time soon. There’s other work to be done before her next competition, a Junior Grand Prix in Poland in three weeks.

“I do more ballet to help my programs,” she said. “I’m working on my programs more, (doing choreography) with no jumps and spins. I’m doing skating skill exercises.”

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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Alysa Liu | Vincent Zhou | Pairs | TV Schedule

Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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.