Alysa Liu reacts after the women's single skating free skate during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 17, 2022 in Beijing.
Ever since arriving in Montpellier, France, for the 2022 World Figure Skating Championships, Alysa Liu didn’t think she could skate as well as she did last month at the Olympics, where she placed seventh.
She was tired, mentally and physically. It had been a long season, with a coaching change, relocation from the Bay Area to Colorado Springs, Colorado, a bout with COVID at the U.S. Championships and a lot in between. It didn’t seem possible to recapture the joy and energy of her skates in Beijing.
Then, she took the ice for her free skate Friday at her first senior world championships.
“I didn’t think I could do better than the Olympics,” Liu said. “It’s going to be hard to do it at worlds so soon after. It’s crazy. I’m so happy. ... I still can’t believe it. What just happened?”
What happened was a clean, mature program, packed with technical content — including a triple axel and two triple-triple combinations — performed with speed and assurance.
With it, the 16-year-old from Richmond, California, earned 139.28 points to climb from fifth place after Wednesday’s short program and capture the bronze medal with 211.19 points total. It is the first world medal for a U.S. woman since Ashley Wagner’s silver in 2016.
Olympic bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto of Japan won gold with 236.09 points. Belgium’s Leona Hendrickx took silver with 217.70, her country’s first medal at worlds in a singles event.
“I took a week off after the Olympics, so I trained immediately after that,” Liu said. “I tried really hard for the little time I had, and it really paid off.”
Liu’s program, set to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D, had minor flaws. Both her triple axel and the second jump in her triple lutz-triple toe loop combination were judged under-rotated. But, as at the Olympics, she skated freely, with good ice coverage and flow, and her spins and steps were superior.
“I took breaks (training) triple axels, and then I started again,” said Liu of the 3½-revolution jump, which she landed as a younger teenager to win two U.S. titles (2019, 2020). “This season, too. It was really hard. I was really glad I could pull through (the) Olympics and worlds with my training.”
The last two seasons have been challenging. After training nine years under Laura Lipetsky, Liu changed coaches in June 2020 to work with Massimo Scali and Jeremy Abbott in Oakland, California. In November, just six weeks before the U.S. Championships, she moved to Colorado Springs to train with Viktor Pfeifer and Drew Meekins.
“I lost a lot of my motivation,” Liu said. “After COVID (hit), everybody couldn’t skate much and neither could I. ... I was barely going to the rink, I wasn’t doing off-ice (training).”
She added: “I grew a lot and I got injured quite a bit. I had an on-and-off hip injury, it really slowed me down. I don’t know how I got (my) motivation back again. I don’t know how I got to this point, I genuinely have no idea.”
A positive COVID test forced her to withdraw after the short program at the U.S. Championships, but she petitioned her way onto the Olympic team. After returning from the Games, she resumed training in Oakland under childhood coach Phillip DiGuglielmo.
“Hanging out (with friends and family) is really nice, I’m glad I could do that between (the) Olympics and now,” Liu said. “And Phillip is really funny. It’s really light-hearted on (the) practice session. And I train with Brian (Boitano), Polina (Edmunds) and Jeremy (Abbott) ... and I have a cat at home, so it’s like emotional support.”