Alysa Liu leads Russians after Junior Grand Prix Final short program

Alysa Liu
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Alysa Liu, the 14-year-old U.S. senior champion, landed a triple Axel in combination en route to the top short program score in the biggest international event of her young career, the Junior Grand Prix Final, on Thursday.

Liu, who in January became the youngest U.S. champion in history, hit a triple Axel-triple toe loop combo, a double Axel and a triple loop to tally 71.19 points, a personal best. She skated to Barbra Streisand‘s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in Turin, Italy.

Liu leads by 1.04 points over Russian Daria Usacheva going into Friday’s free skate, streaming live on the Junior Grand Prix YouTube channel.

“I don’t really get nervous, and I don’t feel barely any pressure,” Liu said, according to the International Skating Union, adding that she plans two quadruple Lutzes and two triple Axels in the free. “I just tell myself it’s just another competition.”

Russians rank Nos. 2-5 at the six-skater event, looking to make it 10 straight Junior Grand Prix Final women’s titles for the nation. The top five are separated by just 3.12 points, but Liu was the only one with a triple Axel.

She looks likely to become the first U.S. woman to make a Junior Grand Prix Final podium since Hannah Miller in 2012 (silver). Perhaps the first to win since Becky Bereswill in 2008.

Liu has followed last January’s national title in her senior championships debut with an impressive first junior international campaign.

In recent competitions, she became the first U.S. woman to land any quadruple jump (a Lutz) and the first woman from any nation to couple a triple Axel with a quad.

Though Liu won both of her Junior Grand Prix Series starts, she came into the Final ranked third in the world by best total scores among juniors. She bettered Nos. 1 and 2 (Russians Kamila Valieva and Kseniya Sinitsyna) in Thursday’s short, where rules disallow quads unlike the free.

Past Junior Grand Prix Final champions include Olympic gold medalists Adelina SotnikovaYuliya Lipnitskaya and Alina Zagitova. Plus, the top two senior women this season, Alexandra Trusova and Alena Kostornaia, the last two years.

Liu will become old enough for senior international events in the 2022 Olympic season.

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MORE: Alysa Liu, with help from Olympic medalist, challenges top Russians

Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”