For reigning U.S. figure skating champion Alysa Liu, growing pains shrink expectations

ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships - Tallinn
Getty Images
0 Comments

It’s easy to understand why Alysa Liu has altered her perspective for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships next week in Las Vegas.

“I don’t necessarily care about my placement anymore,” Liu said via telephone Wednesday.

The two-time defending champion realizes she will be hard-pressed to make it three straight. Getting onto the awards podium might even be out of reach, given what the 15-year-old Liu has been dealing with this season:

*There is a growing body, three inches taller than a year ago, which has changed her center of gravity, making it challenging to do the jumps she had easily tossed off the previous two seasons. And a hip injury that kept her from practicing triple jumps for nearly a month after she struggled through a free skate at an Oct. 27 team event in Las Vegas.

*There is bouncing from rink to rink because of pandemic restrictions in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives and trains. And trying to adapt to a new coaching team headed by Italian Olympic ice dancer Massimo Scali – and including Toronto-based Lori Nichol and Lee Barkell – after Liu split in early spring with Laura Lipetsky, who had coached her since age 5.

*There is being able to work with Barkell and Nichol only via video because of travel restrictions. And then changing the arrangement by eliminating the remote coaching and adding another coach, four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, to work with her in person.

So it’s no wonder Liu has different expectations than a year ago, when she was strongly favored to win her second straight title.

“Obviously, you want to win, but the most important thing will be to skate my best,” Liu said. “You can win and skate bad, and you don’t feel so good about yourself. I would rather skate very well and not focus on placement.”

Skating very well would presumably be enough for Liu to challenge for the title again. That presumption has to be somewhat discounted because she will not be doing either a triple axel or a quadruple jump, and her triple-triple jump combinations may not be the sure thing they have been.

The triple axels and the combinations accounted for most of the huge numerical advantage Liu had in free skate technical scores, her winning margin at the last two U.S. Championships. She said she has not practiced any quads for weeks and began reworking the triple axel only last week.

“She is already the champion of this season to me because of the way didn’t give up during one of the toughest times in her life and career,” Scali said in a text message. “At nationals, we are going to fight and to show that Alysa Liu is so much more than just her big jumps.

“This is a stage, not the final destination, and I will be proud of her no matter what (her finish is).”

Liu, 13 when she became the youngest senior champion in history in 2019, still was not age eligible for senior international competition this season. With the cancellation of both the Junior Grand Prix circuit and the World Junior Championships due to COVID-19, nationals is likely her last competition of this season.

“This season doesn’t feel like a season,” she said. “I’m a little sad we can’t compete, but I understand why. I would rather everyone be safe.”

Liu was just beginning to adjust to her physical changes when she hurt her right hip on a wonky triple axel landing during practice at the free skate-only team event. She wisely watered down the program there, popping the solo triple axel and doing far more double jumps (seven) than triples (two).

“It has been pretty difficult (to jump with a different body),” she said. “It was extra difficult because I grew and also had an injury.”

Her score in the team event, 110.80, was substantially below her lowest in the free skate as either a senior or junior in international competition or national championships the past three seasons.

“I just wanted to compete. I didn’t care how bad I did,” she said, with a laugh.

A few weeks earlier, she had finished fourth in U.S. Figure Skating’s ISP Points Challenge, a virtual event for which skaters submitted video of a short program and a free skate. Her overall score would be closer to sixth place than to third.

And if she also is out of the medals at nationals?

“I don’t think I will be too disappointed,” she said. “I’m mostly planning for after nationals when I get to train my quad jumps again. I’m excited for that.”

Liu said she knew intellectually that adapting to physical changes could be a struggle. When it happened over the last several months, she was forced to face its reality. The good thing is it happened before the 2022 Olympic season, when she will be a senior internationally.

“I was not prepared for it at all,” she said. “I knew I eventually was going to grow, but I just didn’t want to believe it. Then I became more used to it and got hurt.”

Liu hopes that the extra work she had done on skating skills will show – especially because it was nearly all she could work on during the month when her jumping was limited by the injury.

“Hopefully, it all looks better than the last competition,” she said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Olympic Winter Games, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

U.S. men’s gymnastics team named for world championships

Asher Hong
Allison and John Cheng/USA Gymnastics
0 Comments

Asher Hong, Colt Walker and world pommel horse champion Stephen Nedoroscik were named to the last three spots on the U.S. men’s gymnastics team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Brody Malone and Donnell Whittenburg earned the first spots on the team by placing first and second in the all-around at August’s U.S. Championships.

Hong, Walker and Nedoroscik were chosen by a committee after two days of selection camp competition in Colorado Springs this week. Malone and Whittenburg did not compete at the camp.

Hong, 18, will become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009. He nearly earned a spot on the team at the U.S. Championships, but erred on his 12th and final routine of that meet to drop from second to third in the all-around. At this week’s camp, Hong had the lowest all-around total of the four men competing on all six apparatuses, but selectors still chose him over Tokyo Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus.

Walker, a Stanford junior, will make his world championships debut. He would have placed second at nationals in August if a bonus system for attempting difficult skills wasn’t in place. With that bonus system not in place at the selection camp, he had the highest all-around total. The bonus system is not used at international meets such as world championships.

Nedoroscik rebounded from missing the Tokyo Olympic team to become the first American to win a world title on pommel horse last fall. Though he is the lone active U.S. male gymnast with a global gold medal, he was in danger of missing this five-man team because of struggles on the horse at the U.S. Championships. Nedoroscik, who does not compete on the other five apparatuses, put up his best horse routine of the season on the last day of the selection camp Wednesday.

Moldauer, who tweeted that he was sick all last week, was named the traveling alternate for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. It would be the first time that Moldauer, who was fourth in the all-around at last fall’s worlds, does not compete at worlds since 2015.

Though the U.S. has not made the team podium at an Olympics or worlds since 2014, it is boosted this year by the absence of Olympic champion Russia, whose athletes are banned indefinitely due to the war in Ukraine. In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

The U.S. women’s world team of five will be announced after a selection camp in two weeks. Tokyo Olympians Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles are in contention.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Paris 2024 Olympic marathon route unveiled

Paris 2024 Olympic Marathon
Paris 2024
0 Comments

The 2024 Olympic marathon route will take runners from Paris to Versailles and back.

The route announcement was made on the 233rd anniversary of one of the early, significant events of the French Revolution: the Women’s March on Versailles — “to pay tribute to the thousands of women who started their march at city hall to Versailles to take up their grievances to the king and ask for bread,” Paris 2024 President Tony Estanguet said.

Last December, organizers announced the marathons will start at Hôtel de Ville (city hall, opposite Notre-Dame off the Seine River) and end at Les Invalides, a complex of museums and monuments one mile southeast of the Eiffel Tower.

On Wednesday, the rest of the route was unveiled — traversing the banks of the Seine west to the Palace of Versailles and then back east, passing the Eiffel Tower before the finish.

The men’s and women’s marathons will be on the last two days of the Games at 8 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET). It will be the first time that the women’s marathon is held on the last day of the Games after the men’s marathon traditionally occupied that slot.

A mass public marathon will also be held on the Olympic marathon route. The date has not been announced.

The full list of highlights among the marathon course:

• Hôtel de ville de Paris (start)
• Bourse de commerce
• Palais Brongniart
• Opéra Garnier
• Place Vendôme
• Jardin des Tuileries
• The Louvre
• Place de la Concorde
• The bridges of Paris
(Pont de l’Alma; Alexandre III;
Iéna; and more)
• Grand Palais
• Palais de Tokyo
• Jardins du Trocadéro
• Maison de la Radio
• Manufacture et Musées
nationaux de Sèvres
• Forêt domaniale
des Fausses-Reposes
• Monuments Pershing –
Lafayette
• Château de Versailles
• Forêt domaniale de Meudon
• Parc André Citroën
• Eiffel Tower
• Musée Rodin
• Esplanade des Invalides (finish)

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!