Two-time senior national champion Alysa Liu, the most successful U.S. women’s figure skater this season, has changed coaches barely two months before the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
The skater’s father, Arthur Liu, confirmed the switch Monday morning in a text to NBCSports.com.
Two days after returning from the NHK Trophy in Tokyo, which ended Nov. 14, Liu left coaches Massimo Scali and Jeremy Abbott in the San Francisco Bay Area and went to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to train with Christy Krall, Drew Meekins and Viktor Pfeifer.
Asked the reason for the change, Arthur Liu wrote, “I felt Alysa needed more intensity in her training and the coaches and I were not on the same page as to how the training should be.”
Arthur Liu admitted he was “a bit” worried about making the change so close to both the February Olympics and the January U.S. Championships, at which the U.S. team for Beijing will be selected.
Liu, 16, began the season with victories at the Cranberry Cup International in Massachusetts and two Challenger Series events in Europe. In the second, the Nebelhorn Trophy, her finish guaranteed the U.S. its third women’s spot in Beijing.
She followed with her debut appearances on the senior Grand Prix circuit, finishing fifth at Skate Canada and fourth at NHK. In the free skates at both those events, several of her jumps were penalized for incomplete rotations. Those penalties were the mathematical difference between fourth and a silver medal at NHK.
Meekins, world junior pairs’ champion in 2006, said in a text message he and Pfeifer would be in charge of Liu’s overall training.
“I will focus on training and performing the program and readying her for competition,” Meekins said. “Christy and Eddie (Shipstad, who works with skaters on the pole harness) will focus on stabilizing her jump technique through Dartfish and other analysis.
“In the next 40 days, the goal is to make adjustments to her training routine so that she can give an optimal performance at the US Championships, maximizing GOE on all of her elements, as well as performing clean jumps.
“At the same time, we will prepare for the Olympic Games, so if she is selected, she will have the necessary preparation she would need to deliver a performance in Beijing that is competitive with what the top women skaters in the world are doing.”
This is the second full coaching change in two seasons for Liu, who in 2019 became the youngest senior singles national champion ever at age 13. She won the title again in 2020.
After finishing third at the 2020 World Junior Championships, Liu left her longtime coach, Laura Lipetsky, with plans to train some of the time with Lee Barkell and Lori Nichol in Canada and some with Scali in Oakland. Travel restrictions following the start of the Covid pandemic quashed those plans, leaving her to work just virtually with Barkell and Nichol, an arrangement that lasted only a few months.
By early autumn 2020, Olympic ice dancer Scali had taken over Liu’s training, and four-time U.S. champion Abbott began working with her as well. Abbott got on a full-time role later in autumn.
They found themselves with a Liu whose physical changes compromised her ability to do the big jumps that had been her calling card. A hip injury last fall made it problematic for her to jump at all early in a season where Covid would make live competition a rarity.
Liu managed to get fourth at the 2021 nationals and made enough progress since then that, in the absence of injured reigning U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, she once again was the leading woman nationally.
“Alysa greatly appreciates both Massimo and Jeremy, and I also thank both of them for taking care of her,” Arthur Liu wrote.
Scali said he was taken aback by the split.
“Alysa is an amazing young woman, and I’m so proud of the work we’ve accomplished in the past two years,” Scali texted. “Even though the decision came as a shock to me, I respect it and wish her nothing but the best. In my heart, I will always cherish our journey together, and I will be here cheering her on.”
Abbott’s reaction was similar.
“I have nothing but deep respect and gratitude for the team I was so lucky to be a part of, and for the time I got to spend mentoring a truly remarkable human being,” Abbott said via text. “Though I may no longer be coaching Alysa, I will always be in her corner supporting her.”
Arthur Liu added that his daughter had not moved to Colorado Springs but was merely there for training. He said she would also train at times in Oakland with Phillip DiGuglielmo, who had been her pull harness coach there, but she would be spending most of the time between now and the U.S. Championships in Colorado. The Liu family lives near Oakland.
Liu had burst onto the scene in the 2019 season, when she became the first U.S. woman to land a triple axel in a nationals short program and the first U.S. woman to land two triple axels in any free skate. Early in the 2020 season, she became the first U.S. woman to land a quadruple jump in competition.
Liu has made six attempts at triple axels this season, with three getting downgraded, two called under-rotated and one called a quarter-rotation short. She has not tried a quad since the 2020 World Junior Championships.
Her performance and skating skills, which Scali focused on, have noticeably improved. After winning the two national titles by piling up points on jumps, Liu has the second-through-fifth highest free skate program component scores by U.S. women this season, barely trailing only one by Karen Chen. In their one head-to-head meeting, at Skate Canada, Liu had a higher PCS.
“I want to thank Massimo for all that he did for her,” Meekins said. “So rarely can tangible improvements in components and skating skills be seen, as they were in the work he did with her.”
Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.
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