AP

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

Leave a comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: 2019 Senior Grand Prix assignments

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

Mondo Duplantis
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

Susan Dunklee
Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!