Alysa Liu changes coaches, location a month and a half before Olympic figure skating team selected

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - NHK Trophy
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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

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

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback

Elina Svitolina French Open

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

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Marcell Jacobs still sidelined, misses another race with Fred Kerley

Marcell Jacobs

Olympic 100m champion Marcell Jacobs of Italy will miss another scheduled clash with world 100m champion Fred Kerley, withdrawing from Friday’s Diamond League meet in Florence.

Jacobs, 28, has not recovered from the nerve pain that forced him out of last Sunday’s Diamond League meet in Rabat, Morocco, according to Italy’s track and field federation.

In his absence, Kerley’s top competition will be fellow American Trayvon Bromell, the world bronze medalist, and Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala, the world’s fastest man this year at 9.84 seconds. Kerley beat both of them in Rabat.

The Florence Diamond League airs live on Peacock on Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET.

Jacobs has withdrawn from six scheduled head-to-heads with Kerley dating to May 2022 due to a series of health issues since that surprise gold in Tokyo.

Kerley, primarily a 400m sprinter until the Tokyo Olympic year, became the world’s fastest man in Jacobs’ absence. He ran a personal best 9.76 seconds, the world’s best time of 2022, at last June’s USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Then he led a U.S. sweep of the medals at July’s worlds.

Jacobs’ next scheduled race is a 100m at the Paris Diamond League on June 9. Kerley is not in that field, but world 200m champion Noah Lyles is.

The last time the reigning Olympic and world men’s 100m champions met in a 100m was the 2012 London Olympic final between Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. From 2013 to 2017, Bolt held both titles, then retired in 2017 while remaining reigning Olympic champion until Jacobs’ win in Tokyo, where Kerley took silver.

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