Ice-skating phenom Alysa Liu is no stranger to shattering records. In 2016, the then 10-year-old became the youngest intermediate figure skating champion in U.S. history. In 2018, at the tender age of 12, Liu became the youngest to compete in, and win, the U.S. junior championships. That same year, she was also the youngest woman ever to land a triple axel in an international competition.
On January 25, 2019, the pint-sized skater, who stands just 4 feet, 7 inches tall, made history once again as the youngest-ever national figure skating champion at the Geico U.S. Women's Figure Skating Championships held in Detroit, Michigan. The record was previously held by Tara Lipinski, who accomplished the feat in 1997 at age 15.
At the championships, things were going well for defending U.S. champion Bradie Tennell, who was in the lead following the short program on January 24. But things changed the following day when Tennell had a less-than-stellar free skate routine, first stepping out of a triple loop in a combination and then falling during a triple lutz attempt. Meanwhile, Liu, who was in second place and had already impressed the judges with a perfect triple axel in the short program, gave a flawless free skate performance. Her stunning display of eight triples included an unprecedented two triple axels in one skate – making her the first (and youngest) U.S. woman to land three triple axels in competition, as well as two in one program.
Though Liu made them look easy, triple axels are extremely challenging. For those not familiar with ice skating jargon, an axel is one of six main jumps required in all skating routines. It entails the skater launching from the outside edge of one skate, rotating in the air, and landing on the outer side of the opposite skate. “Double” or “triple” refer to the number of rotations he/she completes before landing. The terms are a little misleading given that the skater has to do an extra half rotation, meaning that for a triple, he/she is actually completing 3.5 rotations, to accomplish the jump. To be successful, the skater has to have both incredible body strength and control to get to the right height and speed to complete the turns before landing back firmly on the ice.
When asked about her phenomenal performance, the modest Liu said, "I was just happy that I beat my personal record, and I did a clean long program.” Another thing the young champion was happy about? A trip to Disneyland – a post-nationals ritual for Liu and her family. “It’s sooooo much fun,” gushed the 13-year-old.
Unfortunately, Liu will not be eligible to compete at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan due to the minimum age requirement of 15. Ironically, she is also barred from the 2019 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Zagreb, Croatia because her Aug. 8, 2005 birthday makes her five weeks too young for the July 1 cutoff!
However, that does not appear to bother the California resident. She says, “I'm not too worried about that part because I get more time to work on my jumps, skating skills, spins, and just trying to learn more.”
Liu, the eldest of five children, fell in love with ice skating during her first lesson at the Oakland Ice Center. The then five-year-old showed such natural talent that Laura Lipetsky, a former national competitor who was teaching the group lesson, asked her father, Arthur Liu, to enroll her in private lessons.
“You could see how eager she was to learn and the love she had for skating,” Lipetsky said. “Over time, I saw she could be good. She wanted to learn, and I wanted to guide.” The two have been inseparable since.
Liu, who has been homeschooled since the age of 10, begins her weekdays early to fit in her daily three training session, spaced over eight hours. The young girl gets her homework done between the practices, usually eats dinner in the car on her way home, and is fast asleep by 8:30 pm. Though that might appear to be a lot for someone so young, Liu seems to be taking it in stride. When asked what she does in her free time, the champion replied, “I like to ride my bike, a lot . . . I go to a park and ride my bike with my friends and play tag.”