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At Just 14, Alysa Liu Is First U.S. Women’s Figure Skater To Defend National Title In 7 Years

By Brandon Penny | Jan. 25, 2020, 1:47 a.m. (ET)

Alysa Liu reacts to her scores with Laura Lipetsky (L) and Lori Nichol (R) after the women's free skate at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 24, 2020 in Greensboro, N.C.


GREENSBORO, N.C. – At only 14 years old, there are many things that could have been running through Alysa Liu’s mind Friday night right after she won her second consecutive national title.

The teenager could have been thinking about checking social media or wanting sleep—being that it was nearing midnight, while the athlete in her could have contemplated the quadruple lutz in her free skate that was under-rotated.

Instead, the mature-beyond-her-years Liu said, “This year I’m thinking, it’s a new decade, like, wow, what a good start!”

A great start to the 2020s it was as Liu again made history. Her victory at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, made her the second-youngest U.S. figure skating champion in history. The youngest? 2019 Alysa Liu, of course. She is the first woman to repeat her title in seven years, since 2014 Olympian Ashley Wagner won her first two titles in 2012 and 2013.

But history is never a focus for Liu.

“I just want to keep improving myself and my skating, and hopefully make history along the way,” she said candidly.

One night after placing second in the short program, Liu had the top score in the free skate – 160.12 – to win the competition with a 235.52 total. Mariah Bell was second with the skate of her career (151.99; 225.21), improving upon the bronzes she won in 2017 and 2019, while 2018 U.S. champion and Olympian Bradie Tennell dropped from first after the short to third when she fell on her triple loop (141.90; 220.86). 2018 Olympian and Cornell freshman Karen Chen was fourth (123.24; 193.65) after taking last season off due to injury.

At nearly 4-foot-10, Liu was too short to lift herself onto the top step of the podium so, for the second year in a row, she was pulled up by Bell and Tennell, who last year were third and second, respectively.

Liu is still too young to compete at the senior world championships – just as she was last year and again will be next year – so the two women headed to worlds in Montreal, Quebec, are likely to be Bell and Tennell, both of whom medaled on the grand prix circuit this year and have shown they can be international podium contenders.

Liu did make her international debut this season, though, winning both of her Junior Grand Prix assignments and finishing second at the Junior Grand Prix Final to Russia’s Kamila Valieva.

But having to stay home during the biggest senior competition of the figure skating season does not bother the Richmond, California, native.

“I don’t mind not going because I am happy that I get more practice before going to big competitions and I’m grateful because I do need the extra practice time,” Liu said.

Liu carries that same mindset throughout much of her skating and her life. She is grateful for all experiences that come her way – whether positive, like a national title and the unprecedented (until 2019 Liu came along) two triple axels she landed in her free skate to earn it, or not-so-positive, like that under-rotated quad lutz or the botched triple axel in her short program.

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At such a young age, her ability to mindfully embrace mistakes and learn from them is impressive.

She said of her mistakes, following Thursday’s short program, “It’s always a good learning experience. I think that will make me stronger and I’ll just learn from them. …

“I guess it’s my mental strength. If I make a mistake it’s not over, and I still have to focus for my long, so I can’t be like, ‘Oh no, I made a mistake, I’m gonna die now,’ you know what I mean? So I have to keep it like, ok, yeah, I can do this, and I just have to focus and not think about, oh no, I made a mistake, what am I gonna do. It’s already over, just focus on the next thing.”

Liu has learned a lot this past year, admitting that becoming senior national champion at age 13 and in a season where she didn’t expect to even make it to nationals has helped her grow as a person, though it’s clear she has not let it go to her head.

“I didn’t really feel like I had a role, I didn’t feel like, wow, Alysa, national champion, that’s all she is,” Liu explained of the year that followed her 2019 title. “I just felt like you could always be better. Just because I’m national champion doesn’t mean anything.”

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