DETROIT – As the gold, silver and bronze medalists took to the women’s podium Friday night at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, it appeared a well-balanced nod to both the recent past and the future of the sport.
Each with their own unique talents and characteristics, Alysa Liu, Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell have all proven they belong on that podium and that they have staying power in the sport.
With a new Olympic quadrennium upon us, could these three be the ones to represent Team USA on the 2022 U.S. Olympic Women’s Figure Skating Team?
They have, after all, already begun to form a bond as a unit as Tennell and Bell had to literally pull the 4-foot-7 Liu onto the top step of the podium.
While the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 are more than three years away (1,104 days, to be exact), making that team is a goal for all three competitors, whether it is in the front or back of their minds.
The journey to stay on top of the field for such a long time in such a demanding sport – and one with so many rising stars nipping at their heels – won’t be easy, and history shows it has been historically unlikely.
None of the top three finishers at the post-Olympic 2015 U.S. championships made it to last year’s Olympic Winter Games. The 2014 U.S. Olympic Team also included none of the medalists from 2011 – and the same can be said of the 2007 nationals podium finishers and the 2010 Olympic team.
The last time a post-Games U.S. championships medalist made it to the following Games was in 2006 when 2003 champion Michelle Kwan missed the 2006 nationals and filed a medical waiver to be named to the Olympic team, but she later withdrew after suffering an injury during practice in Torino.
But don’t tell Bell, Liu and Tennell the deck is stacked against them – it would only add fuel to their fire.
Let’s take a look at who they are and why they’re confident we’ll see them in Beijing:
Liu is perhaps best poised for an Olympic debut come 2022.
The Richmond, California, native is younger than her fellow medalists by nearly a decade – with Liu at 13, Tennell turning 21 in less than a week and Bell age 22 – and she is already technically ahead of them.
“Looking at Alysa on this stage with us, this is sort of our future,” Bell said at a post-competition press conference. “The U.S. is showing we have a really strong field of ladies, both experienced and up-and-coming, so the U.S. is set really well I think.”
Liu blew away her competitors in Little Caesars Arena at her first senior national championships and made history in more ways than one. She landed a triple axel in the short program – becoming the first American to land one in that program at nationals – and two in the free skate. She is just the third U.S. woman to land a triple axel at nationals and the youngest of those three. And, by winning the title, she became the youngest U.S. senior champion in history, lowering Tara Lipinski’s record from 1997.
“She just became a teenager and she possesses the technical skill and the drive of a seasoned veteran,” Lipinski said on the NBC broadcast.
Asked after the short program whether the world had just witnessed a breakout star, Liu’s lifelong coach Laura Lipetsky didn’t miss a beat, replying, “Yes.”
The upcoming Olympic season will mark the first time Liu is age-eligible for senior-level international competition, and she cannot even compete at junior worlds until next season. But Liu doesn’t mind, saying she is excited to have more time to train and prepare for her eventual meetings with the Russians. If she remains healthy and motivated and accomplishes her goals, Liu might even be able to contend with the men come 2022.
“I still watch international skaters. I actually really like them. A lot of them are an inspiration to me. I think I need a (quadruple jump) to keep up with them because a few of them have quads,” Liu laughed.
Tennell was the lone Olympian competing in Motor City and has what it takes to potentially return to the Games at her next chance.
Rarely ever missing a jump, she is cool, calm, collected and confident going into each performance – and consistent.
Marred by injury the previous two seasons, the Carpentersville, Illinois, native had a breakthrough last year and at exactly the right time with the PyeongChang Games approaching.
She earned bronze at Skate America, her career-first grand prix assignment, and was one of only two American women to earn a grand prix medal that season.
Tennell then won the national title and made her first Olympic team.
After helping the U.S. earn the Olympic team event bronze medal, she finished ninth individually in PyeongChang and sixth at world championships the following month.
This season she has earned another grand prix bronze, at Internationaux de France, and was fourth at Skate America. Tennell was leading nationals after the short but a step out on a triple loop and an uncharacteristic fall on a triple lutz dropped her to second.
“This is very outside of the norm, so I think today just wasn’t my day,” Tennell said. “Things didn’t go as planned, but that’s life. You take away from it what you can learn, and onwards and upwards… I’m excited to get back home and work harder than ever to fix what I made mistakes on.”
While Liu has youth and jumps on her side, and Tennell has consistency and Olympic experience, Bell has the most motivation to earn a spot on the Olympic team after missing out in 2018.
A senior at nationals since 2014, Bell broke through in 2016-17. That season she medaled at two Challenger Series events and claimed her first grand prix medal, silver at Skate America. The Long Beach, California, native also landed on the podium at nationals, taking bronze and claiming a spot on the world team, where she was 12th.
Then considered a strong contender to make it to PyeongChang, Bell wasn’t as successful in the Olympic season and finished fifth at nationals while the top three were named to the Olympic team.
The experience of being so close to a lifelong goal that she could almost taste it has given Bell a leg up on the road to Beijing.
“I definitely feel like I’ve put in my time and now I’m starting to see that pay off, and now it’s just a matter of continuing to put my name out there and skate successfully and that can help me build my name, but you do see a shift in this nationals,” Bell reflected. “Bradie and I are the only two of last year’s top five who are here this year, so you do see a switch in the top ladies. “I’m just really looking forward to these next four years because I definitely feel like I’m in a great position and I’m just excited to build. I’m going to be on that team in 2022, I’m sure of it!”