Alysa Liu withdraws from U.S. Figure Skating Championships due to COVID

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate Canada
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Two-time national champion Alysa Liu withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships after testing positive for the coronavirus before Friday night’s free skate and plans to petition for a spot on the Olympic team.

Liu, 16, shared on social media that she is feeling good, tested negative twice before arriving to compete in Nashville and is fully vaccinated.

Liu was third in Thursday’s short program and, as the highest-ranking U.S. woman in the world this season, was in strong position for one of three Olympic women’s spots.

The national championships are not an Olympic Trials. A selection committee decides after the competition on the Olympic team, taking into account results over the past year, starting with the January 2021 U.S. Championships.

The Olympic women’s team will be announced during NBC Sports’ coverage Saturday afternoon.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Skaters can petition for a spot on the team if they do not complete the U.S. Championships. Reigning U.S. pairs’ champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier said they will petition for a spot, too, after withdrawing before nationals after Frazier’s positive COVID test.

Skaters who successfully petition must be able to prove the ability to perform full competition programs by a specified date and be medically approved to compete at the Olympics.

Liu was the top U.S. woman in the fall Grand Prix Series, ranking fifth in the world by best total score across all international competitions when excluding the extra Russians who won’t be at the Olympics.

In 2019, Liu became the youngest senior U.S. champion in history at age 13. She repeated as champion in 2020 and was fourth last year after dealing with injuries, a growth sport and a coaching change.

She changed coaches again this past fall during her first senior international season.

The last skater to successfully petition for an Olympic spot was Michelle Kwan, who missed the 2006 U.S. Championships due to a groin injury. Kwan ultimately withdrew from the Olympics due to injury, replaced by Emily Hughes.

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes (not the figure skater) contributed to this report from Nashville.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch

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

Kyle Smaine

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.”