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Where EAST meets the Northwest


Alysa Liu. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

 

TALENTED TEEN. Alysa Liu performs in the womenís free skate program during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Liu won the 2019 Senior Womenís Championship. She also set several records on the path to her first win at the U.S. championships. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Nathan Chen. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

SKATING SUCCESSES. In the world of U.S. menís figure skating, one name has reigned supreme in recent years: Nathan Chen. It came as no surprise, then, that he won the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January for the third year in a row. As he continued his stranglehold on the top menís spot, though, a new name rose to the top of the womenís competition. Alysa Liu set several records on the path to her first win at the U.S. championships, and her age and talent foreshadow many more appearances at the winnerís podium. (AP Photos/Carlos Osorio)

From The Asian Reporter, V29, #05 (March 4, 2019), pages 1 & 8.

Liuís youth, Chenís consistency highlight national skating victories

By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter

In the world of U.S. menís figure skating, one name has reigned supreme in recent years: Nathan Chen. It came as no surprise, then, that he won the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January for the third year in a row. As he continued his stranglehold on the top menís spot, though, a new name rose to the top of the womenís competition. Alysa Liu set several records on the path to her first win at the U.S. championships, and her age and talent foreshadow many more appearances at the winnerís podium.

Few doubted Nathan Chen would emerge on top at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. After all, he was not only the twice-defending champion but also the reigning world champion, having crushed Japanís Shoma Uno by nearly 40 points at last yearís event. (By comparison, Uno defeated third-place finisher, fellow Japanese skater Kazuki Tomono, by a little more than six points.)

And last December, Chen won the Skating Grand Prix for the second straight year, part of a season in which he won all three events he entered. He became the first American male skater to win two Grand Prix titles in the awardís 23-year history; only two other American men have won the title even once.

More impressively, Chen won nine of his last 10 skating events heading into the championships, failing to take the top spot only in the PyeongChang Olympics last year, when he placed fifth. As if this competitive load wasnít enough, Chen began his freshman year at Yale in the fall of 2018, adding to the substantial pressure on him.

His routine as a full-time student includes ice time at Yaleís Ingalls Rink, with his only connection to his coach coming via FaceTime. "There are pros and cons with anything, but I donít mind the training atmosphere Iím in," Chen said. "Iím really grateful that Yale is allowing me to continue skating while pursuing my studies."

Being a full-time Yale student and a full-time skater is a huge task, but that pressure wasnít evident at this yearís U.S. championships. In his short program, Chen executed two quad jumps, giving him a good score before the free skate. And in that longer program, he doubled his quad output, starting with a beautiful quad lutz at the beginning that foretold the dazzling performance to come. In his next two moves, he added two more quads, racking up 47 points just moments into his routine.

When he finished his program, Chen had scored an incredible 342.22 total points, this time besting the second-place finisher by more than 58 points. Chenís free skate score alone was high enough to beat the total scores of all but six of the competitors at nationals.

In winning his third straight national championship, Chen became the first American man to accomplish that feat since Johnny Weir in 2004-2006. As long as he can keep up on his Yale studies and his skating, Chen could be in line for his fourth straight title in 2020.

School studies of a different kind occupy the mind of the U.S. national winner on the womenís side. Her studies were of the ninth-grade variety, since this yearís national champion, Alysa Liu, is only 13 years old. Before this yearís nationals, the youngest U.S. skaters to win a national title were Tara Lipinski and Scott Allen, who both won at age 14.

But Liu is used to achieving at a young age. At last yearís U.S. nationals, she won the junior division despite being more than a year younger than the next-youngest competitor. And at the U.S nationals in 2016, she became the youngest intermediate U.S. champion at age 10, thanks to a free skate that included six triple jumps, two performed back-to-back.

Liu built on those impressive tricks at the 2017 Asian Open, becoming the youngest competitor in the world to land a triple axel in competition. At this yearís nationals, Liu nailed the three-and-a-half-rotation jump in her short program, but she knew that one triple axel wouldnít be good enough to win a championship.

Then Liu saw her chance. Three top competitors ó Amber Glenn, Emmy Ma, and defending champion Bradie Tennell ó all skated before Liu, and all fell while trying to land different, less difficult triple jumps. If Liu could nail a triple axel in her long program, the win would be hers.

Like Chen, Liu got her hardest jumps out of the way early, hitting a triple axel right out of the gate in her long program. Not satisfied with just one, Liu landed a second triple axel right afterwards, becoming the first U.S. woman to land three total triple axels in competition, with two in one program ó and the youngest ever to do either.

She finished her long program with a well-earned smile on her face. That smile widened into a gasp of astonishment when the scorecards showed sheíd earned a career-best 143.62 score in her free skate, vaulting her into the lead. "When my score came out," she said modestly, "I still thought that it isnít over because there is still one more skater Ö I was just happy to beat my personal record."

When that final skater, Mariah Bell, could not top Liuís total of 217.51, the 13-year-oldís victory ó her first at the senior level ó was secured. But her next big victory at the senior level wonít be possible until next yearís nationals, since sheís too young for international competition at either the senior or junior level.

Liu wonít be eligible for the senior level until 2022, just in time for the Beijing Winter Games. Like her other successes, Liu takes that pause with characteristic confidence. "Iím not too worried about that part because I get more time to work on my jumps and spins, and just train more and more before I compete against them."

With her prodigious talent, work ethic, and competitive drive, Liu could achieve the victory string that Nathan Chen has put together ó or even surpass it. Even if Liu canít match his consistency, she and Chen give Asian-American sports fans a lot to look forward to in figure skating competitions to come.

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