figure skating

5 Things to Know About Figure Skater Alysa Liu, Youngest Member of Team USA

In her debut in the women's short program on Tuesday, Liu took the ice to "Gypsy Dance" by Ludwig Minkus

Based on her resume alone, the only surprise about figure skater Alysa Liu making her debut at the 2022 Winter Olympics is that it didn't come sooner.

The Bay Area native won back-to-back national championships in the United States in 2019 and 2020, and clinched silver at the 2019 Junior Grand Prix Final and 2020 World Junior Championships — all while executing a few jumps no U.S. woman has before.

Of course, she's still only 16, which makes her the youngest member of Team USA in Beijing, across any sport.

Here are five of the top things to know about Liu ahead of her free skate final on Thursday.

1. Liu Is the Youngest Ever U.S. Figure Skating National Champion

When Liu won her first national title in figure skating in 2019, she was just 13 years old.

She repeated her feat a year later at age 14, and now in 2022 is the youngest representative of the U.S. at the Winter Olympics. Her teammate and the current U.S. champion Mariah Bell, meanwhile, is 25 years old, the oldest U.S. Olympian to compete in women's singles in 94 years.

Liu is not just a prodigy on the ice — she graduated high school at 15, and when Toyota announced a sponsorship that provided her a Highlander Hybrid, she had to wait at least seven months before she was eligible for a California driver’s license.

And while her dad at the time told her to focus on skating rather than driving, she wasn't sure he didn't have ulterior motives.

“I think my dad is just saying that so he can drive the car,” she told NBC Sports last year. “I think he is playing me. I’ll get him back.”

2. She Has Landed Jumps No Other U.S. Woman Has

After her early win as a young teenager, Liu followed up by becoming the first U.S. woman to land three triple axels in one competition and the first to land a quadruple jump (a quadruple lutz) in a competition.

On a broader scope, in 2019 she also became the first woman in the whole world to land a quad and triple axel in the same program at a competition — though that won't be part of her program in Beijing.

“It was a lot easier when I was smaller, and a lot shorter,” Liu, who now stands about 5 feet, 2 inches, said of the quad. “It’s just been harder. Especially when COVID hit, I couldn’t train it as much. I stopped training it for a period. So, there was a lot of other factors, but definitely puberty (was one factor).”

Alysa Liu of Team United States skates during the Women Single Skating Short Program on day eleven of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Capital Indoor Stadium on Feb. 15, 2022, in Beijing, China.
Xavier Laine/Getty Images
Alysa Liu of Team United States skates during the Women Single Skating Short Program on day 11 of the 2022 Winter Olympics at Capital Indoor Stadium on Feb. 15, 2022, in Beijing, China.

3. A Rapid Growth Spurt Changed Liu's Skating

In her early years on the figure skating scene, Liu stood a mere 4 feet 8 inches tall. Then she grew 3 inches in a single year.

What is this?" she recalled thinking to NBC News.

Over the years since, with several different coaches, she has readapted to her new body and style.

"Your body is growing so fast and then you need the training to keep up with the growth of your body, that will throw off your jumps,” said her father, who raised Liu and her four siblings as a single dad, and who fled China in 1989 after organizing pro-democracy demonstrations.

“My skating now, I feel like I have more purpose to it,” Liu said last month in Nashville. “It’s more meaningful to me than when I was 13. When I was 13, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, jump, jump! Woo!’

4. Liu Had to Withdraw From Nationals Due to COVID-19

Not too far ahead of the Olympics, Liu withdrew from the 2022 National Championships after the short program when she tested positive on COVID-19.

While there were some fears it could make her bid to be on the Olympic team more difficult, the figure skating selection body takes an athlete's entire body of work from the prior year into account, and Liu still made the team in Beijing.

Bay Area figure skater Alysa Liu discusses how competing in a post-pandemic world has changed.

5. She Performed to 'Gypsy Dance' in the Short Program

In her individual debut in the women's short program, Liu took the ice to "Gypsy Dance" by Ludwig Minkus, a track from the ballet "Don Quixote." While she didn't attempt a triple axel, her score of 69.50 landed her in eighth place among the field, easily qualifying her for the free skate. That competition is scheduled for Thursday at 5 a.m. ET.

Per her program this season, Liu will skate to "Violin Concert in D, op. 35" by Pyotr I. Tchaikovski, performed by Joshua Bell.

She's surely hoping to earn a medal, but has told NBC News she's not thinking about the podium.

"I just want to skate really well and I don't really care about what place I get."

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