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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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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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