Choosing FaceTime over a phone as the medium for an interview with Alysa liu last week was fortuitous.
The video connection revealed a Liu who was constantly smiling – and punctuated the smile with frequent laughs – during a 30-minute conversation.
Liu, speaking from a hotel room in the small town of Egna in northern Italy, was clearly in a good position.
And not just because the mountain scenery Liu could see outside the hotel is beautiful.
It was also because Liu’s new vision of herself had put her in a good head space.
âI’m much happier now,â Liu said. “I feel better. Mentally, I am in a very good position.
You can see this clearly from Liu’s confident and mature skating in her first two events as a senior international competitor, the Cranberry Cup International in August and the Lombardia Trophy in September. She won both events with huge margins and, more importantly, her quality of performance showed striking maturity.
It was proof that at the age of 16, Liu suddenly went beyond the image of the jumping prodigy who once captured her skating.
“This transformation was the goal for this season,” said Massimo Scali, who leads Liu’s three-person coaching team, which now includes Jeremy Abbott and Lorenzo Magri. Liu trained at the Magri Skating School in Egna for most of June and between the Lombardia Trophy and the Nebelhorn Trophy which starts Thursday in Oberstdorf, Germany.
âShe needed to be presented as something that didn’t just jump,â Scali continued. âOne thing that impresses me, and one that I keep reminding him of, is reaching this level of change and maturity normally takes years, maybe a full Olympic cycle. Now there are times already when you see her on the ice, and Jeremy and me and Lorenzo look at each other and say, âWow, look what has become of her. “
It is faster, more powerful, better at expressing movement and emotions which correspond to the choreography created by Scali to two imposing pieces of classical music, the gypsy dance of Minkus‘ballet, “Don Quixote”, for the short program and the excerpts from Tchaikovskythe violin concerto of (skillfully assembled by Hugo chouinard) for free skating. Such music, especially Tchaikovsky, would have overwhelmed the artistically insensitive Liu who won US titles in 2019 and 2020.
âThese are programs that really gave me the feeling of an Olympic season, of a new Alysa that could come to a high level of feel and interpretation,â said Scali.
Sonia bianchetti from Italy, a long-time International Skating Union official and judge, attended the Lombardia Trophy as a spectator. She came away very impressed with Liu, whose total and free scores were the second best ever for an American female, with easily her highest component scores ever recorded internationally.
âShe skated really well in both the short and the free,â Bianchetti said in an email. âAll of her jumps are very well executed, effortless, high and long. She also has beautiful towers. What’s even more important to me is that she glides well on the ice, with deep edges, and she moves her hands and body to the music. She is very elegant considering her age.
At the same time, Liu seems to be slowly regaining control of one of the big jumps, the triple axis, which had been his most competitive. His first attempt, at the Cranberry Cup, ended in a fall and downgrade. The next one, in Lombardia, was landed slightly under-shot. She doesn’t hesitate to try again at Nebelhorn, where the stake is she needs a top-six spot for the United States to secure a third place in women’s singles at the Olympic Winter Games in 2022 in Beijing.
âI was very shocked and very honored when they (US Figure Skating) picked me to compete for third place,â said Liu. âI don’t feel any pressure. I think it must be a change in my mindset. I’m just skating for myself right now.
It only took what she showed at the Cranberry Cup and the Champs Camp that followed for the USFS to choose Liu for the Nebelhorn mission. His strong performance at Lombardia reinforced this decision.
âThis is where I wanted her to be,â Scali said. “What amazes me is that it happened so quickly.”
Such rapid change is something that has defined Liu in the phenomenal phase of his career.
This phase lasted approximately 26 months, starting with becoming the 2018 U.S. Junior Champion at age 12 and ending with the bronze medal at the 2020 World Junior Championships.
Meanwhile, she became the youngest American senior female champion of all time (13, in 2019), the youngest to win two senior titles (14, in 2020), the first American woman to land a triple axel. in a national short program, the first American to land two triple axes in any free skate and the first American to land a quadruple jump in competition.
She was on the “TODAY” show. She was on Time magazine’s 2019 â100 Nextâ list, with Michelle kwan writing in the magazine, “Alysa has a long and bright future.” At a time when American figure skating yearned for an athlete who could challenge the increasingly dominant young Russian phenomena in women’s singles, Liu was the big hope (albeit physically small), no matter she wasn’t there. age eligible for senior international competition until this 2021-22 Olympic season.
And yet, she doesn’t think it would have been easier to deal with the later frustrations if the success and her demands had come slower to her.
âI like fun stuff,â she said. âThe more things happen, the better I feel. “
And then, about a week after the 2020 World Juniors, almost everything stopped because of the pandemic.
âDuring my forties (period), when I wasn’t on the ice at all, I started thinking, ‘Am I even skating?'” She said.
What happened would add to this unsettling feeling.
She left her longtime trainer, Laura Lipetski, in June 2020 and, after pandemic restrictions undermined his plans to work with Lee barkel and Lori Nichol in Canada, she began training full time in the Bay Area with Scali, an Italian Olympic ice dancer. Abbott, a four-time United States singles champion, quickly joined Scali to coach her.
They ended up with a Liu whose physical changes compromised her ability to take the big jumps that had been her calling card. A hip injury last fall made it problematic for her to jump at all at the start of a season where Covid would make live competition rare. His performance at a tag team event in Las Vegas in late October was woefully poor.
She wondered if it was worth trying to make it to the 2021 national championships in January, one of the few live events to take place. She was pleasantly surprised by the mere fact of finding the will to try. And his fourth place, less than two points from a silver medal, was encouraging. It was something to lean on.
The next phase of Liu’s career was about to begin. Considering this is an Olympic season, she and her coaches knew she had to start in a hurry.
It was a double-edged sword. A rushed athlete had to slow down to move forward, both last season and this one. Patience isn’t easy when irritation sets in over the inability to do what once seemed easy and effortless.
âIn fact, I was surprised at how patient I was last year,â Liu said. âIt’s probably from my friends. They told me not to think too much (about her struggles) or think it was the end of the world, because it wasn’t. They kept my spirits up.
âI was very hard on myself during training. Now I’m better off not doing this. I just became more patient.
A rule of thumb is that it usually takes 18 months to two years for a skater to feel comfortable with a new coach and fully understand the coach’s instructions and training methods. Scali said Liu learned so quickly that they started to be on the same page after about six months. The changes in his triple axis, with a different input pattern and a greater reliance on arms and legs than on the rapid rotation that had worked with a more slender body type, began to have the desired effect in giving Liu a bigger and more reliable jump.
âI wasn’t used to thinking so much on the ice,â said Liu. âThe way I use my arms and go into my jumps now, especially the axel, has been difficult for me to get used to. “
Scali designed Liu’s free skate to make room for a lutz quad if she can remaster it. Being part of the Olympic team is his main goal for the season. Landing again with the lutz quad is next.
She and Scali believe that training at Egna has been key to improving the jumps, both because of what ISU Technical Specialist Magri has helped her learn and because of all the other talented skaters there. -low. In June, the three best Italian skaters in men’s singles – Matteo rizzo, Daniel Grassl and Gabriele Frangipani – trained with her.
âAt home (in Oakland), I don’t skate with people doing high level jumps,â Liu said. âWhen I started skating with more people doing the triple axis, it gave me confidence. I get a lot of motivation from being with other good skaters.
Throughout all of the on-the-fly changes in Liu’s life over the past two years, part of his trajectory has gone as planned. She graduated from high school in June at the age of 15, freeing her mind and schedule from academic commitments until she started enrolling in college later this fall.
This gave him more time to cycle and hike with friends, play volleyball with his family, and learn about the world outside of the rink. âI haven’t seen the big picture of anything,â Liu said.
She would like to start driving education, especially since a Toyota sponsorship announced last December provided her with a Highlander hybrid seven months before she was eligible for a California driver’s license.
His father, Arthur, tells him to focus on skating, not driving, in a season that will include his first senior Grand Prix appearances (Skate Canada and NHK Trophy) and, hopefully, a trip to his homeland of China, for the Olympics. He feels that dealing with all the bumps on the Beijing road can be enough of a challenge.
âI think my dad is just saying that so he can drive the car,â she said. âI think he’s playing me. I’ll get it back.
Alysa Liu pointed out this thought with a wry smile. She did it again when asked about her chances of making the Olympic team.
âI like them a lot better than last year,â she said.
Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Olympic Winter Games, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.
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